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Panetta pushes closer military ties with New Zealand

U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta says his country is willing to extend the American military's reach with a presence in New Zealand. (SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S SECRETARY OF DEFENCE LEON PANETTA SAYING: "I think, if New Zealand feels that's something that they would support or want, we certainty are more than ready to engage them in that kind of relationship." Panetta made the comments in an interview on Saturday as part of his trip to bolster U.S.-New Zealand ties. During the talks, Panetta announced that his country had lifted a ban on New Zealand naval ship visits to U.S. defence and coast guard bases. The U.S. is also planning to lift restrictions on joint-military exercises between the two nations. Many see the move as an effort to thaw frosty relations after a 26-year standoff over New Zealand's stance against nuclear weapons. The trip is a first by a Pentagon chief in 30 years.

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