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American Forces Press Service

Panetta Arrives in New Zealand, Final Stop on Asia-Pacific Tour

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

AUCKLAND, Sept. 20, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E Panetta arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, Friday morning local time, for the last leg of his third Asia-Pacific tour as secretary. This trip, which started Sept. 15, has also taken him to Japan and China.

Senior defense officials traveling with the secretary briefed reporters en route about Panetta’s goals for the New Zealand visit, the first by a defense secretary in 30 years.

The first official said there has been a “dramatic uptick” in relations between the two countries since the signing of the Wellington Declaration in 2010, outlining a strategic partnership that includes two central pillars: practical cooperation in the Pacific region and "enhanced political and subject-matter dialogue, including regular foreign ministers' meetings and political-military discussions.”

The secretary’s visit is the “capstone” of the security portion of what has been increased collaboration between the two countries, the official said.

The official noted that Panetta will discuss the same central issue with New Zealand’s leaders that he has discussed with top Japanese and Chinese government ministers: the thinking behind the U.S. strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific, and the opportunities that rebalance brings, in defense issues, for closer cooperation with regional militaries.

“The primary purpose of this trip is to … really engage in a dialogue with Wellington on where they see themselves in the rebalance, [and] where we can work together as part and parcel of this overall strategy,” the official said.

Panetta is also visiting New Zealand to honor its troop contributions and losses in Afghanistan, according to the second senior defense official who briefed reporters.

“They’ve lost 10 troops, including their first female combat casualty in New Zealand’s history,” the second official said. Five New Zealand service members were killed in August, the official added: three in one attack and two in another.

“The secretary will … thank his New Zealand counterparts for their continuing efforts in Afghanistan,” the second official said.

New Zealand is 16 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time. While here, the secretary is scheduled to meet with a range of New Zealand senior leaders including Chief of Defense Forces Army Lt. Gen. Rhys Jones, Defense Minister Dr. Jonathan Coleman, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, and Prime Minister John Key.

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