Pacific island countries to hold second summit next week with Biden

FILE PHOTO: Forum of the Pacific Islands' Secretary General Henry Puna speaks during the High Level Segment session of the One Ocean Summit, which seeks to raise the international community's ambitions to protect sealife, cut plastic pollution and tackle the impact of climate change, in Brest, France February 11, 2022. Ludovic Marin /Pool via REUTERS

By David Brunnstrom and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Pacific island countries will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden next week for a second summit with the United States, Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Henry Puna and a senior State Department official said on Monday.

Puna made the announcement at an event in New York hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Richard Verma, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources confirmed at the same event that the summit would be held next week, but did not give a specific date. U.S. officials had previously said Biden would host the leaders in September.

“It’s something that we’re very much looking forward to as a region, engaging with the U.S. at the highest levels,” Puna said.

“Currently our senior officials are in negotiations with Washington over the outcomes that we would like to see when we meet with President Biden next week,” he said.

“I’m very hopeful that those outcomes will translate into concrete actions moving forward, because right now, there’s a lot of issues and challenges confronting our Pacific region. Apart from climate change, there’s our economic recovery from COVID-19,” Puna added.

Verma said Washington was “determined to be an enduring partner to the nations of the Indo-Pacific – determined to be responsive to your priorities, determined to help you tackle 21st century challenges and make the most of new opportunities, and determined to do it with all of you together.”

He added that the United States “will never lose sight of our common vision for this region – an Indo-Pacific that is free and open, resilient and connected, prosperous and secure.”

Puna said the Pacific island region had gone from a period of strategic neglect just a decade ago to become a subject of strategic interest, competition and “manipulation” today, a reference to the geopolitical rivalry for influence in the region between the United States and China.

“We must realize that the strategic interest and attention we enjoy today will not last forever, and we must capitalize on it in a manner that will ensure sustainable gains for our region and for our people, for decades to come,” Puna said.

He said the stance of the Pacific island countries had been clear: “we will engage with any partner who is willing to work with us, rather than around us.”

Biden hosted a first summit with Pacific island leaders a year ago, at which his administration pledged to help stave off China’s “economic coercion,” and he promised to work harder with allies and partners to address islanders’ needs.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Simon Lewis; Editing by Mark Porter, Andrea Ricci and Sandra Maler)

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