My colleagues who attended tell me that the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), hosted this year in Majuro by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, went very well. As I mentioned earlier this month, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell led a large, interagency American delegation composed of senior officials from the White House, our Pacific territories, the Coast Guard, USAID, and several of our Cabinet Departments including State, Energy, Defense, Agriculture, Interior, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services.

Secretary Jewell greets Dan Larson of the State Department and members of the U.S. Delegation, as she arrives in Majuro for the Pacific Islands Forum Post-Forum Dialogue. Photo Credit: Lois Shelden

Secretary Jewell arrives in Majuro with our Ambassador to the PIF, my good friend Frankie Reed (in red).

This was Secretary Jewell’s first international trip since being confirmed by the Senate, and she came to work. Just as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did at last year’s PIF in Rarotonga, she participated fully in the Post-Forum Dialogue on regional issues and development assistance, conducted a series of bilateral meetings (including with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Key), and engaged with citizens and civil society groups. Overall, the U.S. delegation held dozens of meetings with island Heads of Government, other officials, and Pacific stakeholders.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell at work at the 2013 PIF Post Forum Dialogue.

Secretary Jewell and Ambassador Armbruster at the PIF’s Post-Forum Dialogue.

The  conversations were robust and detailed, covering the full range of common interests and challenges that the United States and other Pacific nations share, including with respect to climate change, renewable energy, maintaining healthy oceans, environmental stewardship, disaster preparedness, health, sustainable economic development, fisheries management, education, support for civil society institutions, addressing gender inequality and trafficking in persons, and maritime security. Our delegation launched several new programs, announced more than US$ 30 million in new assistance in the region, and discussed the status of ongoing projects.

Group photo at the PFD.

The PIF leaders and Post-Forum Dialogue heads of delegation.

It is axiomatic that climate change is a defining challenge of our time and that many of our Pacific islands neighbors are especially vulnerable. Among other projects and commitments in this area that Secretary discussed at the PIF was the U.S. Agency for International Development’s launch of a new procurement of US$ 24 million for the Pacific American Climate Fund project to provide and monitor grants for climate change adaptation measures in the region.

Pacific Islands Forum opening ceremony.. the Jobwa Dancer's.

At the Pacific Islands Forum opening ceremony.

Separately, the United States will provide US$ 4.5 million over 5 years for a program called “Disaster Preparedness for Effective Response (PREPARE)” which is focused on strengthening disaster preparedness in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Secretary Jewell presents a gift to the host of the Pacific Islands Forum meetings, President Loeak of the Republic of the Marshall islands. Photo Credit: Lois Shelden

Secretary Jewell presents a gift to President Loeak of the Republic of the Marshall islands.

The United States is also supporting the transition to renewable energy through several projects in the region, including the U.S.-Asia Pacific Comprehensive Energy Partnership.  Designed to drive trade and investment in private and public-private sector energy projects and to thereby facilitate progress on renewable and cleaner energy, this bundle of projects is backed by US$ 6 billion in concessionary financing from the Export-Import Bank of the United States and the United States’ Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

After attending a series of meetings, Secretary Jewell visited Rongelea Atoll moi fish farm, the prototype of an aquaculture project, funded in part by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Areas. Photo Credit: Lois Shelden

Secretary Jewell visits Rongelea Atoll moi fish farm, the prototype for aquaculture projects funded in part by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Areas.

The United States is also collaborating with fellow Pacific countries in other ways to protect the region’s unique natural resources. For example, the Micronesia Biosecurity Plan is a two-phased, US$ 3.8 million effort by the U.S. to evaluate invasive species risks and develop a regionally-vetted Biosecurity Plan. In addition, we are providing numerous grants to advance several Marine Protected Area (MPA) projects and to support education, training, and sustainable aquaculture economic initiatives throughout the Pacific region.

Secretary Jewell meets with President Mori of the Federated States of Micronesia. Photo Credit: Lois Shelden

Secretary Jewell with President Mori of the Federated States of Micronesia.

To advance the cause of women’s empowerment in the region, the State Department is expanding the Rarotonga Partnership for the Advancement of Pacific Island Women, launched by former Secretary Clinton at the 2012 PIF in collaboration with Australia, New Zealand, and other public and private partners. This year we have launched new projects in PNG to support women’s empowerment including the US$ 1.5 million Bougainville Women, Peace, and Security Incentive Fund.

We realize this is from a couple nights ago but like the smiles and the colorful dresses. Kommol tata!

Local Marshallese women observing the PIF.

To improve the health of Pacific Islanders, the United States is expanding our already extensive regional health partnerships to embrace a number of new initiatives. Included is a US$ 100,000 grant to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to improve public health data processes to allow for better tracking of trends and for quicker response to outbreaks, as well as individual grants through our Embassies in the region (including Apia) to combat non-communicable diseases. We are also launching the mHealth Mobile Technologies Tobacco Control Initiative, which will use mobile phone technology to help American Samoans and Samoans quit smoking.

Secretary Jewell attends a bilateral meeting with President Remengesau of Palau. Photo Credit: Lois Shelden

Secretary Jewell with President Remengesau of Palau.

There are also a large number of sustainable economic development projects underway. For example, just in our Embassy in Apia we have awarded a half dozen significant grants intended to support the development of small and medium sized enterprises, spur development of new products using Samoa’s natural resources, and build entrepreneurial capacity. Many of our other Embassies in the region are doing likewise.

Secretary Jewell speaks with Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand after attending bilateral meetings with our Pacific partners. Photo Credit: Lois Shelden

Secretary Jewell with NZ Prime Minister Key at the PIF.

We also continue our long-standing modus operandi of launching region partnerships so that we can work collaboratively with like-minded friends on issues of common interest.

For example, the United States and New Zealand recently hosted a best-practices exchange forum called “Supporting Economic Empowerment and Development in the Caribbean and Pacific” (a.k.a., SEED CAP) in Jamaica.

SEED CAP brought together island representatives as well as scientific and business experts to discuss best practices and potential projects in the areas of food security, agriculture, and women’s economic empowerment.

Also, the United States and our Pacific islands partners have extended the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, which will deliver an additional US$ 40 million to the Pacific islands signatories and advance the cause of more effective and sustainable management of the region’s critical ocean resources.

With respect to peace and security issues, it is always difficult to talk about the United States contributions to maritime security in the Pacific because of the great scope of our ongoing investment and the huge number of individual projects and partners. From our shiprider agreements to meteorological and seismic monitoring, to interdiction activities to capacity-building and interoperability exercises such as Pacific Partnership and RIMPAC, to keeping sea lines open and safe, to responding to natural disasters and other humanitarian crises, there is too much ongoing investment to list, let alone describe.

After participating in the Post-Forum Dialogue, Secretary Jewell and members of the U.S. delegation attended bilateral meetings with some of our closest partners in the Pacific. Photo Credit: Lois Shelden

During one of the many working meetings around the Post-Forum Dialogue.

In terms of recent new initiatives, we have provided an additional US$ 1 million for unexploded ordnance clearance activities in 2013 across the Pacific region, and we have made a commitment to extend that important effort.

Also, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federated States of Micronesia recently completed the inaugural Oceania Maritime Security Initiative patrol, an ongoing program intended to expand the opportunities for partner nations to work side-by-side with U.S. Coast Guard personnel and assets in support of more effective law enforcement and fisheries monitoring.

And of course, all of our Embassies in the region remain focused on supporting the next generation of Pacific leaders through a variety of education, training, and other capacity-building activities. If you browse the websites of our seven Embassies located in PIF member states, you’ll see just how great that commitment is.

You know from my prior posts about our work in that regard here at Embassies Wellington and Apia, includng our annual Connecting Young Leaders conferences, our new Future Leaders of the Pacific (FLP) conferences, and our emphasis on expanding exchange programs. Even though I was unable to attend the PIF myself this year, I was delighted that we were able to send three of our FLP youth as delegates – Joe Iosua of American Samoa, Mele O’Brien of the Solomon Islands, and Isabella Silk of the Marshall Islands.

U.S. and Niue delegates with some of the youth leaders.

Two of our Future Leaders, Joe (second from right) and Mele (far right), with other delegates at the PIF.

There are many hundreds of other programs and projects that I could describe, but I don’t want to stray too far from my original topic, the Pacific Islands Forum. Suffice it to say that America’s historical engagement in the Pacific continues unabated, at a magnitude and diversity virtually unquantifiable and certainly unparalleled.

DH sig