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Chief of NATO bolsters ties with New Zealand, to make Australia visit

BRUSSELS -- NATO and New Zealand signed a partnership deal Monday and alliance chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced a visit to Australia as the defense group boosts ties with non-NATO nations engaged in Afghanistan.

“We may be far away geographically, but we are linked by common values and commitment,” Rasmussen said on signing an Individual Partnership Cooperation Program Arrangement with visiting New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

Key said New Zealand's engagement with NATO had developed considerably over the past decade, mainly through Wellington's involvement in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan.

“This arrangement is a move to capitalize on this engagement,” he said.

In a comment on Twitter, Rasmussen said: “I thank Kiwi troops for their courage, professionalism and sacrifice.”

The deal with New Zealand sets out steps to boost cooperation in fields such as cyber defense, disaster relief, crisis management and training.

“We want to be even more closely connected with countries that are also willing to contribute to global security, where we all have a stake,” Rasmussen said.

Hours before meeting Key, he announced he would travel next week to Australia, saying “both countries are making a real difference to our mission in Afghanistan.”

New Zealand currently has 189 troops in the 130,236-member force ISAF force in Afghanistan, while Australia has 1,550 troops, the largest non-NATO contingent.

Rasmussen also welcomed Australia's decision to take the main mentoring role in the central Afghan province of Uruzgan from the U.S. command.

NATO has already agreed partnership programs with Sweden and Switzerland and is expected likewise to boost ties with Japan.

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