The United States has allowed New Zealand to take part in a joint military exercise this week, after a 20-year freeze in defence cooperation, but has refused to say Wednesday whether the approval signalled a wider thaw.
Australia, Japan and Britain are also involved in the multinational exercise off Singapore to feature the interception of ships carrying weapons of mass destruction.
Washington removed Wellington's ally status in 1985, after New Zealand banned nuclear-powered and armed vessels from its waters, and has since withheld military and intelligence cooperation.
There have been exceptions, with the two countries working together in preparation for military deployments such as in Afghanistan and the Gulf.
But the US waiver for New Zealand to take part in the military exercise is not linked to any joint deployment.
The US embassy here said Washington supported Wellington's involvement in the exercise but it steered away from commenting on whether this held any wider significance.
"The US strongly supports NZ participation in the PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative) so as a result we have issued a waiver in this situation so they can participate," the embassy said in a statement.
New Zealand's Defence Minister Mark Burton also declined to comment on the significance of the joint exercise.
"This is part of ongoing extensive exercises and engagements with our regional defence partners," he said through a spokeswoman.
"At an operational level, the defence relationships with various regional partners have continued to develop over the last six years. This is just the latest example of regional co-operation."
In 1985 the then Labour government of prime minister David Lange, who died last Saturday, refused a visit from a US warship after passing anti-nuclear legislation.
The decision led to New Zealand being frozen out of the Anzus (Australia, New Zealand and US) Pact for defence of the Pacific, and to Washington downgrading its status from "ally" to "friend".
No US warship has visited since 1985.
The nuclear issue has been seen as one reason for New Zealand not being considered for a free trade agreement with the United States, which has such a deal with New Zealand's neighbour Australia.
Centre for Strategic Studies director at Wellington's Victoria University, Peter Cozens, said the waiver was "extremely significant" and illustrated a closer government recognition of each other's position.
"Both parties - New Zealand and the US - would have had to talk about it. In this particular instance there is a benefit for both parties. It doesn't mean to say we'll have a similar one in the future, but it is a step in the right direction," Cozens said.
"I think it's a good sign for both governments, and it signals to a broader clientele within the Indo-Pacific that New Zealand and the US are prepared to work and co-operate together for a great good," he said.
A Defence Force spokeswoman said New Zealand would send an Orion aircraft, a liaison officer and two customs staff to participate in the Singapore-hosted exercise.
Dubbed "Deep Sabre", it will see defence forces tasked with intercepting "target ships" carrying weapons of mass destruction.
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