May 16, 2007

The Kaselehlie Press

Washington D.C. (May 7, 2007) - Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Christopher R. Hill said that he had visited many of the Pacific island states as he opened the morning meeting held at the Loy Henderson Conference Room at the State Department for the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders. Hill who has been involved in state visits to Korea and other countries that are or may be going nuclear said, "It's great to go to a place that isn't producing nuclear weapons." He went to speak on an invigorated engagement in the Pacific and the connections that all of our countries have.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice took the podium and welcomed the leaders especially Governor Linda Lingle of Hawaii, Governor Camacho from Guam, Lieutenant Governor Sunia from American Samoa, and Representative Tenorio representing the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.

She said, "There's another connection and one of great pride for us." Citizens of the Freely Associated States are able to serve in the military and some have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives in that service. "The United States is grateful for their service."

"This meeting is a key event in what we are calling the Year of the Pacific. You will hear this phrase many times this week, but it encapsulates our efforts to expand our engagement with your countries and to reaffirm America's historic role in the Pacific. Maintaining security and stability in the Pacific region is crucial to the interest of every country and every territory represented in this room, including the United States. Many of your countries face growing political, environmental, and economic challenges and these are often compounded by other more long term transnational threats. They pose profound threats to the Pacific Islands.

"In response to these challenges, we are working together to chart a comprehensive approach, promoting opportunity and prosperity, good governance and the rule of law, greater peace and security. You will hear more about our plans throughout the day. We also plan to highlight the potential economic benefits that will result from the relocation of U.S forces from Okinawa to Guam.

"I stress this comprehensive approach for an important reason, because we all know and share the conviction that democracy plays a key role in fostering political and economic development. Like many of you, the United States is deeply concerned about the unlawful overthrow of the freely-elected government in Fiji. We are very pleased that Pacific countries have spoken with one voice through the Pacific Islands Forum in calling for the speedy return of democracy to Fiji. The Pacific cannot devolve into where strong men unilaterally decide the fates of their country and destabilize democratic foundations of their neighbors.

"Let me close by thanking each of you for traveling to this important meeting. I hope that today's events will give us an opportunity to broaden and deepen our friendships as we work together to build a bright, more democratic, and more prosperous future for all of our citizens."

President Kessai H. Note, President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Chairman of the PICL had the onerous task of following Secretary Rice with his opening remarks. He said, "When former President George H.W. Bush in 1990 held his historic Pacific Island Nation Summit at the East-West Center, he emphasized that America views the Pacific not as a great ocean of small islands and tiny populations, but rather, as an 'Aquatic Continent', the world's largest, covering a full third of the Earth's surface…with each island, like a string of pearls, possessing something unique to contribute to the value of the whole."

President Note said that he hoped the outcome of the PICL meetings would "expand and strengthen mutually beneficial linkages in terms of working together on practical approaches to advancing a number of issues."

He mentioned many of those issues including and invigorated JCC process, security in its broader sense including social, environmental, and economic challenges. He hopes that one end result would be more US developmental assistance including US AID, MCA and expansion of the Peace Corps program.

He spoke of climate change and the problems associated with it that weighs heavily on the minds of all islanders. He quoted a recent study by the International Protocol on Climate Change that said that "sea level rise is no longer a matter of conjecture, but a reality.

Note in closing addressed Secretary Rice, "Madame Secretary, we trust and pray that through your good efforts, and the continuing attention we have from the East-West Center, the wellspring of goodwill can grow.