Auckland - US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in New Zealand on Friday for talks on military cooperation between the two nations, the first Pentagon chief to visit in 30 years since before Wellington barred its ports to nuclear warships.

Panetta plans to hold talks with Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman and other senior leaders to explore deeper US military engagement with New Zealand as the United States rebalances its forces to the Asia-Pacific as part of a new military strategy.

Coleman said the visit underlined the improvement in relations and defense ties, but the country's anti-nuclear ban was not negotiable.

"We've got an independent foreign policy, but we're not changing our stance on nuclear ships, and the US is very comfortable with that," Coleman told TV3 channel.

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