The possibility of having US troops based in New Zealand has been raised by US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta.

"If New Zealand feels that's something they would support or want, we certainly are more than ready to engage them in that kind of relationship. We think it would be very helpful," Mr Panetta said in response to a question on TVNZ's Q+A programme, screened on Sunday.

During a visit to New Zealand Mr Panetta announced New Zealand navy vessels will be able visit Department of Defence and Coastguard facilities in the US and around the world.

Restrictions on talks between officials and joint military exercises are also being lifted.

The moves are seen as a thawing of relations strained for decades by New Zealand's anti-nuclear policies.

Mr Panetta left on Saturday. His visit to New Zealand was the first in 30 years by a US defence secretary.

Last month General James F. Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, said an American troop build up in Darwin should not be viewed as sabre rattling in the region.

The number of US troops rotating through Darwin will increase in coming years, to reach 2500 by 2017, but is currently only a few hundred.

NZ Newswire

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