US Ends 26-Year Ban on New Zealand Warships
Panetta pledges closer ties with Kiwis
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 21, 2012 2:45 AM CDT
Maori warriors take part in a welcome ceremony for Leon Panetta in Auckland today.   (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)
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(Newser) – Leon Panetta has patched up a Reagan-era rift between the US and New Zealand. The defense secretary announced that the US is lifting a ban on Kiwi warships in its ports that has been in place since 1986, reports the BBC. The ban was introduced after New Zealand declared itself a nuclear-free zone and banned nuclear-armed or powered warships from using its ports or entering its waters. New Zealand's defense minister welcomed the move but said the nuclear ban remains in place and is non-negotiable.

"While we acknowledge that our countries continue to have differences of opinion in some limited areas, today we have affirmed that we are embarking on a new course in our relationship that will not let those differences stand in the way of greater engagement on security issues," said Panetta, the first top Pentagon official to visit the country in 30 years. He said the US military plans to lift restrictions on military exercises with New Zealand and thanked the country for its contribution in Afghanistan, reports Reuters. New Zealand has had a small contingent of troops in Afghanistan since 2003 and five of them were killed in attacks last month.