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Panetta, Key talk Kiwi troop deaths

Saturday 22 Sep 2012 4:52 p.m.

By Patrick Gower

The Prime Minister met with United States Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta today. While Mr Panetta has openly called for a revenge attack on the Taleban fighters who have been killing Kiwi troops, John key was coyer.

The Prime Minister dressed quite casual in his sneakers, and Mr Panetta even more so – he turned up in jeans. Hooking up for a wine over lunch at Villa Maria, there was a special request for whitebait.

But there's nothing casual about the way Mr Panetta travels.

His Boeing 747 is the National Airborne Operations Centre, known as the "Doomsday Plane". In a nuclear attack, it would serve as the Pentagon's mobile office.

But his bullet-proof four-wheel drive is actually based here. It belongs to the American embassy.

He means business, like how he promised US help for a retribution attack on the Taleban, responsible for killing five New Zealand soldiers.

“Whatever information we have that is credible, we will don whatever we have to do in cooperation with the forces of New Zealand to make sure they understand that nobody attacks our forces and gets away with it,” says Mr Panetta.

The attack would be about utu. But you don't get that kind of straight-talking from our end.

“I wouldn't characterise it like that,” says Mr Key. “We are trying to gather intelligence, and the reason we are trying to gather that intelligence is because when we understand that, we can ensure our people are in the safest position.”

Four SAS troops are now based in Kabul gathering intelligence about the Taleban responsible – in particular the bomb-maker.

Labour said Mr Key should never have revealed it. He says it's no state secret.

“Those SAS people are not combat troops,” says the Prime Minister. “They will work with those logistical teams.”

The visit's incremental development in the US-Kiwi relationship was that our naval ships can now dock at American ports for the first time since the nuclear-free bust-up.

There was even wine today to seal the deal on this renewed friendship. As for next steps, it’s a visit from a non-nuclear powered ship from the US Coastguard, but that would be on America's terms, and like a visit from the US President it’s some way away yet.

Mr Panetta gave a wave goodbye after a flying visit, with just 30 hours on the ground. Then he was gone by just after lunchtime.

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