US allows NZ to join military exercise

17.08.05 11.00am UPDATE
The United States has let New Zealand take part in a multi-national military exercise off Singapore, but is refusing to say whether it signals a wider thaw in the Anzus defence standoff.

New Zealand and United States forces are taking part in the exercise this week, which is based around the simulated interception of ships carrying weapons of mass destruction.

Australia and Japan are among other nations also taking part.

New Zealand has been blocked since the mid-1980s from taking part in joint exercises with the US, due to our anti-nuclear policy.

There have been exceptions when the two countries have worked together in preparation for military deployments such as in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.

However in this case the US issued a waiver for New Zealand to take part in the exercise, despite no link to a joint deployment.

The United States Embassy said the US supported New Zealand's involvement in the exercise, but it steered away from commenting on whether the waiver held any wider significance.

"The US strongly supports NZ participation in the PSI (proliferation security initiative) so as a result we have issued a waiver in this situation so they can participate," the embassy said in a statement.

Defence Minister Mark Burton also declined to comment on the wider significance of the joint exercise.

"This is part of ongoing extensive exercises and engagements with our regional defence partners," he said today through a spokeswoman.

"At an operational level, the defence relationships with various regional partners have continued to develop over the last six years. This is just the latest example of regional co-operation."

A Defence Force spokeswoman said today New Zealand would send an Orion aircraft, a liaison officer and two Customs staff to participate in the Singapore-hosted exercise.

Dubbed "Deep Sabre", it will feature a maritime interdiction scenario, with defence forces tasked with intercepting "target ships" carrying weapons of mass destruction.

Victoria University Centre for Strategic Studies director Peter Cozens said today New Zealand's strong track record of opposition to weapons of mass destruction may have been a factor in the US deciding to include it in the exercise.

Mr Cozens said the exercise would have strong benefits for New Zealand's armed forces.

"We can operate with the biggest military in the world and understand their procedures, not only of a military nature, but also of a rules of engagement nature, also of a getting to know you nature as well," he told National Radio.

He said he saw no reason why New Zealand and US armed forces could not develop a closer relationship in the future.