HONOLULU (KHNL) - The Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders (PICL) representing 12 Pacific states and territories, including the U.S. State of Hawaii and two French dependencies, completed their latest triennial meeting Wednesday in Washington, D.C. with participants agreeing the gathering "establishes a way forward for strengthening U.S.-Pacific Islands relations."
The three-day meeting marked the first time the East-West Center (EWC) organized forum convened in the United States' capital. It offered the Pacific Islands leaders a chance to meet and discuss issues with top U.S. Congressional leaders, State Department officials, and ranking Congressional members, as well as private sector executives.
The twenty Island leaders, representing an area encompassing one-third of the globe, traveled to Washington to, as noted in their communiqué, "broaden and deepen the Pacific Islands region's engagement with the United States." The communiqué added "a wide range of topics were discussed 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 measures, were also on the busy three-day agenda. The PICL agreed on the need to strengthen the Joint Commercial Commission 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."
One topic discussed in length was the United States' military expansion in Guam. The PICL leaders were told the U.S. intends to explore ways to ensure their nations would benefit from the estimated $14 billion construction program that will result from the relocation of some 8,000 U.S. troops from Okinawa to Guam.
The global environment was also a hot topic, especially climate change and global warming. Kessai Note, president of the Marshall Islands and current chairman of the Leader's group, noted the environment and rising sea levels is a "major security issue" for many of the low-lying island nations. Another sea-related issue of importance was raised by Tommy Remengesau, Jr., president of the Republic of Palau. He encouraged broad participation in "the Micronesian Challenge which promotes the establishment of marine protected areas throughout the Pacific Islands region."
One of the highlights of what was called "a red-letter three days" was the 2007 Pacific Night hosted by the Pacific Islands nations' embassies, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and the National Geographic Society. The gathering brought together some 1,000 individuals with interests in the Pacific Region. Another was a round-table discussion with U.S. Ambassador for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes. Those discussions emphasized the need to expand and invigorate U.S. public diplomacy in the Pacific Islands region, focusing especially on the U.S. Peace Corps, Fulbright and other scholarship programs.
The PICL leadership agreed "it would be very useful to have similar high level meetings with the United States in the future," and tasked the EWC's Pacific Islands Development Program and other regional organizations and institutions to "ensure there is practical and appropriate follow up to the issues raised this week in Washington." The EWC accepted its role and noted, "The Center will continue to work with Pacific ambassadors based in the United States regarding these areas."