US seeks to revive defence ties with N. Zealand

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta flew into New Zealand Friday, the first Pentagon chief to set foot in the country in 30 years, as the two countries seek to revive long-dormant security ties.

On the final leg of a week-long Asian tour, Panetta planned to thank New Zealand for its role in the Afghan war and to explore expanding defence ties that have begun to revive after a hiatus dating back to the 1980s, officials said.

"Over the last couple of years, we've seen a dramatic uptick in US-New Zealand (military) relations," a senior US defence official told reporters before Panetta landed in Auckland.

"There's a lot room for growth in this relationship."

The Pentagon chief wanted "to pay tribute, and thank Wellington for their sacrifices and support in Afghanistan", said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"They've done a lot good work there. They have punched well above their weight."

Ten troops from New Zealand have lost their lives in the Afghan conflict, including five who were killed in two separate attacks in August.

New Zealand has pulled its special operation forces out of Afghanistan but retains 180 personnel there, with a "provisional reconstruction team" in the Bamiyan area.

In talks Friday with his New Zealand counterpart Jonathan Coleman, the US defence chief planned to discuss Washington's policy shift towards the Asia-Pacific, and how the US military could help Wellington build up amphibious capabilities for its military.

"New Zealand is... developing its amphibious capabilities, and that's something we have a great deal of experience with," the official said.

But despite defence cooperation agreements signed between New Zealand and the United States in the past two years, officials said there were no plans to discuss scrapping a longstanding ban on US nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered ships docking at New Zealand ports.

Due to the ban that dates back to the 1980s, the United States prohibits New Zealand naval ships from using military ports or facilities in the United States.

"I would just say we have had no discussions, no deliberations, no internal planning on that point," the US official said.

With New Zealand's deep ties to South Pacific countries, the Pentagon hopes to work together with Wellington to cooperate more on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in the area.

Washington's much-publicised tilt to the Pacific is widely seen as a response to China's growing economic and military power in the region, but the official said talks with New Zealand were not designed to counter Beijing's strong trade ties with the country.

"It's not a zero sum game," the official said. "This isn't some sort of race between us and China. We take note of it, but the primary focus for us is our relationship with New Zealand bilaterally."

Panetta arrived in Auckland after stops in Japan and China, where he had three days of high level talks and toured a naval station in Qingdao.

As part of the US bid to shift to Asia, the US military has unveiled plans to deploy a majority of its ships to the Pacific and has struck agreements with Australia, Singapore and other states to gain wider access to ports and bases in Southeast Asia.

But despite the attempt to "rebalance" US policy towards the Pacific, recurring crises in the Middle East have absorbed Washington's attention, including the deadly attack last week on an American consulate in Benghazi.

  • Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day 1 hour 51 minutes ago
    Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day

    If there's one car that's particularly sought-after among today's well-heeled car collectors, a Ferrari 250 would be it. Usually it's the GTO variant, like the 1963 that sold for a record $52 million last year. A 250 of any sorts demands unfathomable cash, however, which is why we can but gawk at this 250 Testa Rossa. It's as close as any mere mortal will ever come to owning one.

  • Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners 2 hours 47 minutes ago
    Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners

    Buyers of Ferraris or Jaguars are used to perks from manufacturers – including racetrack lessons to help master their exotic machines. But for enthusiasts on a tighter budget, the Ford ST Octane Academy might be the sweetest deal in motoring: Buy a Ford Fiesta ST or Focus ST hatchback, and the reward is a free day of training at one of America’s longest, most-lavish road courses.

  • Why you can't buy America's greenest car 6 hours ago
    Why you can't buy America's greenest car

    Ask me or any auto expert what's the fastest car you can buy for any given amount, and we could easily cough up several options. Same for most luxurious, or off-roadable, or any other measurement. Yet there's one type of question that's far harder to answer: What's the greenest, most environmentally friendly car you can buy today?

  • Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia
    Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Armed pirates boarded a Singapore-managed oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, kidnapping three Indonesian crew and stealing some of the vessel's shipment of diesel fuel, the International Maritime Bureau said Wednesday. The attack occurred early Tuesday off Malaysia's west coast, said Noel Choong, head of IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based piracy reporting centre. The diesel oil tanker was believed to be en route to Myanmar. "IMB is aware of the attack on the Singapore-managed ship in the Malacca Straits.

  • McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania
    McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania

    It may not be safe to enter a McDonald’s restaurant in Singapore on Mondays starting 28 April. To celebrate the iconic Japanese character Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, the fast food chain announced last Friday that it would be releasing a new collection of Hello Kitty toys in McDonald’s restaurants island wide next Monday.

  • First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy
    First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy

    He called the emergency 119 number which put him through to the fire service, which in turn forwarded him to the coastguard two minutes later. That was followed by about 20 other calls from children on board the ship to the emergency number, a fire service officer told Reuters.