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US Cook Islands, Niue Embassy 09/24 07:22


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden is set to announce the opening of new 
U.S. embassies on Cook Islands and Niue on Monday as the Democratic 
administration aims to demonstrate to Pacific Island leaders that it remains 
committed to increasing American presence in the region.

   The announcement about the new diplomatic missions in the South Pacific 
comes as Biden prepares to welcome leaders to Washington for the two-day 
U.S.-Pacific Island Forum Summit. Talks are expected to heavily focus on the 
impact of climate change in the region.

   Biden has put a premium on improving relations in the Pacific amid rising 
U.S. concern about China's growing military and economic influence. Plans about 
the embassies were confirmed by two senior administration officials who briefed 
reporters on the condition of anonymity before the formal announcement.

   White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden would use the 
summit to strengthen "ties with the Pacific Islands and discuss how we address 
complex global challenges, like tackling the existential threat of climate 
change, advancing economic growth, and promoting sustainable development."

   The leaders were scheduled to be feted on Sunday at a Baltimore Ravens 
football game and to visit a Coast Guard cutter in Baltimore Harbor for a 
briefing by the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard on combatting illegal 
fishing and other maritime issues.

   Pacific Island leaders 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 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 Island nations over the next decade, including $130 million on efforts 
to stymie the impacts of climate change.

   The forum includes Australia, 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.

   Biden will welcome the leaders to the White House on Monday morning for 
talks and a working lunch. They also will meet on Monday with Biden's special 
envoy on climate, John Kerry, for talks focused on climate change. Secretary of 
State Antony Blinken and U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield will host the 
leaders at the State Department for a dinner.

   Kerry and USAID administrator Samantha Power will host the leaders on 
Tuesday for climate talks with members of the philanthropic community. The 
leaders also are slated to meet with members of Congress and Treasury Secretary 
Janet Yellen is to host a roundtable with the leaders and members of the 
business community.

   Power last month travelled to Fiji to open a new USAID mission that will 
manage agency programs in nine Pacific Island 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 

   The White House said most members of the 18-member forum were dispatching 
their top elected official or foreign minister to the summit.

   But the administration was "very disappointed" that Solomon Islands Prime 
Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who was in New York last week for the U.N. General 
Assembly, opted not to stick around for the White House summit, according to an 
administration official. The Solomon Islands last year signed a security pact 
with China.

   Prime Minister Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu of Vanuatu also is expected to 
miss the summit. He was elected by lawmakers earlier this month to replace 
Ishmael Kalsakau, who lost a no-confidence vote in parliament.

   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.

   The U.S. president is set to honor Australian Prime Minister Anthony 
Albanese with a state visit next month.


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