· Thank you Prime Minister Marape, and Secretary Blinken,
· Fellow Pacific Islands Forum Leaders and Ministers.
· Kia Orana and Warm Pacific Greetings to us all.
· First and foremost, allow me to acknowledge the Government and people of Papua New Guinea for the arrangements and facilitation of this very auspicious occasion.
·Meitaki Ma’ata Prime Minister Marape for your leadership and support to bring these Summits together here in your wonderful homeland of Papua New Guinea.
· In my capacity as Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, allow me to add my own personal welcome to you Secretary Blinken for joining us here in the region this afternoon. It is wonderful to see you so soon, after Hiroshima (at the G& Summit).
· While I will admit that there is a level of disappointment that the much-anticipated visit by President Biden, could not eventuate, we remain grateful to the U.S. Government for working at short notice to ensure appropriate representation at this engagement this afternoon. As Prime Minister Marape has said, we are all politicians. If there is an issue on the home front, you’ve got to deal with that first.
However, we welcome the invitation of the President to meet again in DC this Fall, and we look forward to receiving further details on that.
· Excellencies and Secretary,
· Today’s discussion presents a valuable opportunity to gather and discuss issues of mutual importance for our region and the U.S.
· Our meeting today is a demonstration of our commitment to continue to strengthen our partnership and building on the very successful first U.S.–Pacific Island Country Summit in Washington, DC last September 2022.
· It also provides an opportunity to consider a number of key updates and necessary actions on issues of key importance.
· I am sure we can all agree that we continue to witness a fluid and evolving geostrategic landscape. For instance, the region and indeed the world today has vastly changed from that which it was when you last visited the Pacific region just last February.
· Dominating the global discourse since our last engagement has, of course, been the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which has had ripples across the globe.
· The impact of this event has materialised in the Pacific through increased costs in food and energy and equally concerning– exacerbating supply chain difficulties.
· It is in times such as this, that our partnerships become fundamental to our ability to address these exogenous shocks and challenges.
· As a longstanding Forum Dialogue Partner, we are encouraged by the U.S.’ recognition and application of the Forum Leaders’ Blue Pacific Principles for Dialogue and Engagement.
· As we continue to reaffirm, the Forum is central to Pacific regionalism and collective action, and we are committed to progressing our priorities through collective engagement with partners under the auspices of the Forum family.
· On this note, I was very encouraged by the recent outcome of the G7 Leaders’ Summit which included recognition of and support for our 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. As well as other significant regional priorities, such as debt restructuring, and financial systems reform.
· In this vein, allow me to reference briefly the Partners of the Blue Pacific Initiative.
· While we welcome the intent and rationale to establish such a mechanism, we do maintain some concerns with the current design and construct of this initiative, in that it must, at the very least, allow for joint consultation and ownership by the region, if it is to succeed.
· We therefore welcome the opportunity to dialogue with the U.S. and other partners on this initiative, to better understand its scope and to ensure it complements and does not duplicate regional efforts to progress our priorities through existing mechanisms.
· My colleague Leaders with me this afternoon will also raise and reaffirm the key regional priorities that we continue to pursue as a collective.
· In addition to driving the progress of these priorities, I must underscore that significance and value of joint advocacy. I welcome the active engagement and joint advocacy of the U.S. with the Pacific Islands Forum on priorities such as climate action, development financing, and security.
· With these brief remarks, Excellencies and Secretary, I thank you once again for making time in your busy schedules to gather and discuss pressing issues in our region.
· The agenda before us is critical to forging strengthened partnerships, and our expectations to achieve our broad ambitions remain high. I wish us all a successful discussion. I hope PM Natano that the prayer that you put forward would reinforce that due to time constraints, our talk and contribution would allow us to get through this meeting with everybody having a chance to have a say. So with those words, thank you very much again, Secretary Blinken– I will now ask the Press to leave the room before Leaders will have the opportunity to put forward their comments.
Thank you very much.