Susan Walsh/AP file photo
WASHINGTON — 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 on 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 that 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.
“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 you warnings about a rising ocean and the existential threat it poses to your countries. We have heard your pleas for assurance that your nation will never lose its statehood or membership in the U.N. due to a climate change crisis. The United States makes it clear today that we share this position. As part of the summit the U.S. will formally establish diplomatic relations with the Cook Islands, Niue, and Niue Premier Dalton Tagelagi. Later Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will take part in signing ceremonies with Niue Premier Dalton Tagelagi and with Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown to mark the new elevated relations.
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 said.
Blinken is also set to take part in an event with Kiribati President Taneti Maamau later Monday as the island country was set to sign on to a new partnership with the U.S.-backed Millennium Corporation Challenge. The group has previously assisted the country with dozens of low-lying atolls and 120,000 people to 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 on Monday that he will deploy a U.S. Coast Guard ship to the Pacific Islands region later this year to train and collaborate with the nations. The U.S. administration has pledged to add $810 millions in new aid over the next decade for Pacific island nations, including $130,000,000 for efforts to stave off the effects of climate change. Blinken, U.N. The leaders will be hosted by Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield at the State Department for dinner. They will also meet with Congressmen. 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 year.
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.
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. Biden would have been first U.S. President to visit Papua New Guinea.