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Biden Hears Pacific Island Leaders     09/26 06:09


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden on Monday told leaders from the 
18-member Pacific Islands Forum that he has heard their warnings about the 
impact of climate change on their region and that his administration is 
committed to helping them meet the challenge.

   Pacific islands leaders gathered Monday for the start of a two-day 
Washington summit. Many have been critical of rich countries for not doing 
enough to control climate change despite being responsible for much of the 
problem, and for profiting from loans provided to vulnerable nations to 
mitigate the effects.

   At the summit's start, Biden said his administration is requesting Congress 
approve $200 million in new assistance for the region, including financing to 
help the islands prepare for climate and natural hazards and improve 
infrastructure. Biden has put a premium on improving ties in the Pacific at a 
time of rising U.S. concern about China's growing military and economic 

   "I want you to know I hear you, the people in the United States and around 
the world hear you," Biden told the leaders. "We hear your warnings of a rising 
sea and (that) they pose an existential threat to your nations. We hear your 
calls for reassurance that you never, never, never will lose your statehood, or 
membership of the U.N. as a result of a climate crisis. Today, the United 
States is making it clear that this is our position as well."

   As part of the summit, the U.S. is formally establishing diplomatic 
relations with two South Pacific nations, the Cook Islands and Niue. Secretary 
of State Antony Blinken took part in separate signing ceremonies with Niue 
Premier Dalton Tagelagi and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown to mark the 
new elevated relations.

   "Today, we celebrate shared history, common values and people-to-people ties 
between our two nations, Tagelagi said at the Niue ceremony. "We have been 
looking forward to this day."

   Brown welcomed the elevation of U.S. relations with the Cook Islands and 
said the U.S.-Pacific islands partnership could be an important tool for 
helping the region achieve its aspirations.

   "These milestones celebrate areas of change and demonstrate that with 
unshakable resolve and leadership, remarkable achievements are possible," Brown 

   The forum includes Australia, the Cook Islands, Micronesia, Fiji, French 
Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New 
Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, 
and Vanuatu.

   Kiribati signed onto a $29.1 million partnership with the U.S.-backed 
Millennium Corporation Challenge. The group will assist the island country with 
dozens of low-lying atolls and help boost its workforce.

   Some of the leaders attended an NFL game in Baltimore on Sunday and visited 
a U.S. Coast Guard cutter in the city's harbor for a briefing on combating 
illegal fishing and other maritime issues. Biden announced Monday that later 
this year he would deploy a U.S. Coast Guard vessel to the region to 
collaborate and train with Pacific islands nations.

   At last year's summit, the White House unveiled its Pacific strategy, an 
outline of its plan to assist the region's leaders on pressing issues like 
climate change, maritime security and protecting the region from overfishing. 
The administration pledged the U.S. would add $810 million in new aid for 
Pacific islands nations over the next decade, including $130 million on efforts 
to stymie the impacts of climate change.

   The leaders also met Monday with Biden's special envoy on climate, John 
Kerry, for closed-door talks focused on climate change. Blinken and U.N. 
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield were hosting the leaders at the State 
Department for a dinner.

   Kerry and Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International 
Development, will host the leaders on Tuesday for climate talks with members of 
the philanthropic community. The leaders also plan to meet with members of 
Congress. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will host a roundtable with the 
leaders and members of the business community.

   Power last month traveled to Fiji to open a new USAID mission that will 
manage agency programs in nine Pacific islands countries: Fiji, Kiribati, 
Nauru, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States 
of Micronesia, and Palau. The U.S. this year has opened embassies in Solomon 
Islands and Tonga, and is on track to open an embassy in Vanuatu early next 

   Biden earlier this year had to cut short a planned visit to the 
Indo-Pacific, scrapping what was to be a historic stop in Papua New Guinea, as 
well as a visit to Australia for a gathering with fellow leaders of the 
so-called Quad partnership so he could focus on debt limit talks in Washington. 
He would have been the first sitting U.S. president to visit Papua New Guinea.

   Biden is set to honor Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with a 
state visit next month.

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