Thursday, December 9, 2010

[pima.nius] Kiwi and US navies in joint Pacific aid mission

11:35 AM |

Kiwi and US navies in joint Pacific aid mission

MARTIN KAY - The Dominion Post

New Zealand and United States naval ships will sail alongside each other in a South Pacific aid mission – a significant step to stronger ties as the nuclear row is consigned to history.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said the multi-role vessel Canterbury would work alongside a US ship with similar capabilities to deliver medical, engineering and environmental assistance in May.

The project was likely to visit Tonga and Vanuatu and was agreed during Dr Mapp's meeting with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in Washington last week.

It meant the first significant contact between the navies since the US cut military ties over New Zealand's nuclear ban in the 1980s.

The frigate Te Kaha engaged in a brief exercise with a US destroyer and two Japanese frigates off Japan on its way to the US in June. The encounter lasted a few hours and was described by Dr Mapp as "speed dating". Te Kaha berthed in a civilian dock in Seattle, rather than the navy base.

Next year, the New Zealand and US ships will work together for weeks. New Zealand Navy and other military personnel have worked with their US counterparts in similar missions since 2007, but they have always involved only a single US ship.

Dr Mapp said the navies working together was the first tangible sign of the closer military ties expected from the Wellington Declaration signed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month. "It's indicative of an improved relationship, there's no question about it. It's a more normal relationship," he said. But it did not mean the prospect of the US resuming naval visits to New Zealand was on the horizon.

"Both nations understand those aspects of the relationship, and rather than talking about the things that we have [opposing] positions on, we're really thinking about things that we can constructively engage on into the future."

Robert Ayson, director of Victoria University's centre for strategic studies, said the move was deeply symbolic, involving the two navies. Dr Mapp's US visit was also symbolic, with a stopover to meet Admiral Robert Willard, in Honolulu – the first time a New Zealand defence minister had met a US Pacific commander in 27 years. 

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