"Pacific Island Council of Leaders (PICL) Meet for the First Time in Washington D.C."

May 16, 2007

The Kaselehlie Press

Washington, D.C. (April 6-9) - According to Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Christopher R. Hill, the State Department suggested to Pacific Island leaders in a previous meeting of the Pacific Island Council of Leaders (PICL) that they could meet directly with U.S. agency directors if the meeting was held in Washington, D.C. The leaders who meet on a tri-annual basis accepted the proposal and on April 6-9, Pacific Island leaders converged on Washington for high level multi-lateral talks. The talks are normally held in Honolulu. This year marks the first time that the meetings have been held in Washington, D.C. in the organization's 26 years.

The PICL does not produce a list of resolutions as its purpose is to provide high level leaders in the Pacific the opportunity to talk freely about issues that affect them. It is facilitated by the East West Center, housed at the University of Honolulu in Hawaii and the secretariat of PICL.

The council does produce a communiqué at the end of the talks that covers the issues discussed. According to that communiqué, twenty Pacific Island leaders were in attendance. The communiqué says that the nations of the Pacific Islands encompass one-third of the globe.

The Twenty island leaders in attendance represented American Samoa, the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hawai'i, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the independent nation of Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

According to the PICL communiqué, the purpose of the meetings in Washington was to broaden and deepen the Pacific Islands region's engagement with the United States. High level meetings were held with the Executive and Legislative Branches of the U.S. Government. The Council discussed a wide range of issues including economic development, security, trade, aid, environmental protection, climate change, fisheries, emergency responses to natural disasters, USAID and the desire to expand U.S. public diplomacy programs, especially those of an educational and exchange nature. The PICL agreed on the need to strengthen the Joint Commercial Commission (JCC) by securing additional resources to fund the programs for developing trade and investment, and by revamping the agreement to improve market access for Pacific Island countries' exports, an issue the body has discussed before.

One of the issues discussed at great length was the U.S. military's partial move from Okinawa into Guam. The move will mean an increased population in Guam of approximate 35,000 people, a few more people than currently live in Pohnpei.

The East-West Center, the Secretariat of PICL has been charged with the task of research and analysis on issues surrounding the move for the leaders.

Some U.S. leaders say that the move will mean increased economic development not just in Guam but across the Pacific Island Nations.

In a question and answer session at the Department of Interior officials said that the move to Guam could benefit islanders in several ways. Skilled construction workers could potentially get jobs working on the construction projects in Guam. It would require workers to relocate to Guam. Despite the current diaspora taking place in the islands (people departing from home islands to other places) officials conjecture that there will be benefits to other islands besides Guam in terms of money sent to hired workers' homes.

Island contractors will be able to bid on jobs that will be required as part of the $8 billion budget that is earmarked for the move.

The officials at interior said that "all of those people will need to go somewhere on the weekend." Since other island nations are all accessible by air from Guam perhaps the soldiers and their families will travel and by doing so help the economies of the islands they visit.

Palau President Tommy E. Remengesau said in roundtable discussions with Ambassador Karen Hughes, the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs, "No matter how big or small, it's the thoughts behind the deeds."

He expressed his concern however, that nuclear missiles from North Korea can reach Guam. That thought seemed to weigh heavy on the minds of the Pacific leaders.

The Kaselehlie Press asked then Vice-President Redley Killion what the best thing about PICL was in his consideration. He quickly said "The military base in Guam" and referred to the possible economic impact in the Pacific

Killion also said that he was a little disappointed that in the PICL, "the issues were not too organized." He said that he felt that there was a great deal of time spent on issues that didn't concern all of the islands and that part of the group sat in disinterest for a good deal of the time since the issues being discussed didn't apply to their own jurisdictions.

Donor countries such as China scheduled a meeting with some of the leaders of PICL. One PICL representative said that probably due to political instability in the Solomons, Cook Islands, and Fiji, high leaders of other large countries were selected to represent each of the troubled islands at the meeting. The leaders of those islands perhaps understandably took offense at their lack of representation and expressed their concerns to PICL. The Solomons had Australia appointed as their representative which, according to the PICL source, particularly galled the leadership there perhaps due to RAMSI issues there.

The members of PICL were scheduled to have a briefing on the outcome of the meeting but most members boycotted that briefing in protest.

The members of PICL had high level meetings on Capitol Hill, facilitated by Congressman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, representative of American Samoa. Leaders discussed many issues with Congress Representatives including fisheries resources and the possibilities of developing canneries within the Pacific instead of having foreign interests exporting all of the tuna from the Exclusive Economic Zones of the Pacific Island nations.

President Remengesau, of Palau urged Island leaders to commit to the Micronesia Challenge, a plan that has taken island nations across the world by storm. The plan calls for nations to protect 30% of their near coastal waters and 20% of their terrestrial (land) resources.

Issues visited by the PICL are likely to be taken up by the Pacific Island Forum if history is any example. That body does produces resolutions that have built in enforcements.