Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and New Zealand Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman speak Oct. 28 during a press conference at the Pentagon. (Jim Watson / Getty Images)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hosted his counterpart from New Zealand for lunch at the Pentagon Monday, but there was no sign of progress on lifting the South Pacific nation’s 26-year-old ban on docking US Navy aircraft carriers and other warships.
But Hagel announced a new agreement that will bring New Zealand into the annual Rim of the Pacific Exercise, or RIMPAC, and formally invited New Zealand ships to dock alongside US ships at Naval Station Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
Hagel did not mention the Cold War-era ban on US Navy ships visiting New Zealand ports during the joint press briefing that followed his lunch with Minister of Defense Jonathan Coleman.
New Zealand banned nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships from docking there in 1987, leading to a breakdown in military relations with the US.
The ice began to thaw last year when former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited New Zealand, the first such visit by a US defense secretary in about 30 years.
As part of the US military’s “rebalance” toward the Asia-Pacific region, the US Navy and Marine Corps have recently increased their activities in nearby Australia.