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US NZealand ties warm

WELLINGTON, Nov 4 – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in New Zealand to sign an agreement marking a thaw in relations after a row over nuclear weapons dating back a quarter of a century.

Clinton arrived to overcast skies in Wellington as she continues a sweep through the Asia-Pacific marking Washington\’s resolve to shore up ties with the region.

She was greeted on the tarmac by Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Wellington\’s newly-elected Green mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who arrived at the airport riding a bicycle and wearing a high-visibility vest.

After a brief rest at her hotel, Clinton took an unscheduled walk around Wellington Harbour.

Wrapped up against a chilly wind in a heavy overcoat and blue scarf, along with sunglasses rendered superfluous by the slate-grey skies, Clinton kept her tour brief before a phalanx of security guards escorted her back to the shelter of her limousine.

She is scheduled to receive a traditional welcome from New Zealand\’s indigenous Maori people later Thursday, before meeting Prime Minister John Key.

The pair will sign the so-called "Wellington Declaration," which is expected to include commitments to co-operation on climate change, scientific exchanges and working together in the Pacific.

The declaration is also tipped to cover nuclear non-proliferation, the subject of the diplomatic spat between Wellington and Washington that begin in 1986 when New Zealand banned nuclear warships from its waters.

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In response, the United States suspended the three-way ANZUS defence treaty — which also involved Australia — and placed strict controls on military cooperation between the countries.

Key said this week that the declaration would not reinstate New Zealand as a full ally of the United States but would show "we\’ve got the next best relationship".

The countries\’ military co-operation has increased in recent years, including a New Zealand troop contingent in Afghanistan, and analysts believe Clinton\’s visit signals a willingness to work around controls imposed after the ANZUS suspension.

New Zealand and the United States were strong allies during World War II and the State Department said in September that the relationship between the two democracies was "profoundly underperforming".

Clinton has already visited Guam, Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea on her nine-stop tour, which will next include Australia and American Samoa.

Clinton was originally scheduled to visit New Zealand in January but that trip was postponed following the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti, which killed around 170,000 people and left more than one million homeless.

During her three-day trip to New Zealand, Clinton will visit the country\’s second-largest city, Christchurch, which was hit by a quake of similar intensity in early September.

While the tremor caused damage estimated at four billion dollars (3.12 billion US), it did not result in any loss of life, a fact that has been attributed to New Zealand\’s strict building standards in an earthquake-prone area.

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