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

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will lead the American delegation to the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Post Forum Dialogue this year, scheduled for September 6th in Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands. As in the prior several years, the delegation will include senior officials from the White House, U.S. Coast Guard, USAID, our Pacific territories, and the Departments of State, Energy, Defense, Interior, and Health and Human Services.

While at the PIF, Secretary Jewell will address a wide range of issues with Pacific Island leaders, including global climate change, natural resource management, sustainable development, economic growth, and maritime and regional security. Her participation, coming after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s attendance last year in Rarotonga, highlights and builds upon America’s historic relations with our sister peoples and nations of the Pacific.

Secretary Jewell is America’s 51st Secretary of the Interior. Prior to her confirmation to that position she served in the private sector, most recently as President and CEO of Recreation Equipment, Inc. (REI). A graduate of the University of Washington , she is a petroleum engineer by training. In nominating her, President Obama stated, “She is an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future… She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress; that in fact, those two things need to go hand in hand.” 

With more than 70,000 employees, the Department of the Interior serves as steward for more than 20 percent of the land in the United States, including our national parks and national wildlife refuges. It also oversees the responsible development of conventional and renewable energy supplies on public lands and waters, is the largest supplier and manager of water in our 17 Western states, and upholds trust responsibilities to the 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.

The Department of the Interior also has administrative responsibility for coordinating federal policy in the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as oversight of federal programs and funds in the Freely Associated States of the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The Secretary is thus an excellent choice to lead our delegation this year.

Although I have made it a point to attend each of the prior three PIFs – in Port Villa, Auckland, and Rarotonga – the press of Embassy business in Wellington and Apia will unfortunately prevent me from traveling to Majuro this year. Our two Future Leaders of the Pacific delegates will be attending for me, however, and I look forward to talking with them about their experience and observations when they return home from Majuro.

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting our inaugural Future Leaders of the Pacific Conference (#FPL13) in Pago Pago, American Samoa. Conceived here at the Embassy as a youth version of the annual Pacific Islands Forum of heads of government, the conference came to life in partnership with our friends at the East-West Center and the Government of American Samoa.

Click through for image source.Tutuila harbour, Pago Pago.

Beautiful Pago Pago in American Samoa, site of our conference.

Working with our sister American Embassies in the region, we identified and brought together twenty-two young leaders ranging in age from 21 to 26 from the 16 Pacific Islands Forum member nations plus American Samoa. On the agenda for discussion were a wide variety of important regional and global  regional issues such as women’s empowerment, democracy and governance, climate change, sea bed mining, and non-communicable diseases. You can access the full daily agenda here.

The three 'Future Leaders' from Samoa that are attending the conference sitting with US Ambassador Huebner (second on left), Chad Berbert - Deputy Chief of Mission and resident Chargé d’Affaires - (third on the left) and Embassy staff.

My team and I (right) meet with our three delegates from Samoa (left) in Apia before flying over to Pago for the conference.

The delegates were Eugene Amor (Federated States of Micronesia), Toai Bartley (Samoa), Luana Bosanquet-Heays (Cook Islands), Berrick Dowiyogo (Nauru), Mua Galea’i (American Samoa), Tarema Henry (Kiribati), Aldric Hipa (Niue), Joe Iosua (American Samoa), Hiku Jackson (New Zealand), Tina Kivalu (Tonga), Karl Laulu (Samoa), Vitalina Niroa (Vanuatu), Mele O’Brien (Solomon Islands), Grace Pace (American Samoa), Theresa Penn (Samoa), Shon Satele (American Samoa), Isabela Silk (Marshall Islands), Jone Tamanikaimoturiki (Fiji), Kasipo Teo (Fiji), Jewel Vaka (American Samoa), Naomi Woyengu (Papua New Guinea) and Demei Yobech (Palau). Our Australian delegate was unable to attend because of a family emergency.

FPL13 Delegates Visits the NOAA National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.

FPL13 delegates and a few presenters, off-site for a session on climate change.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with the PIF leaders in Rarotonga 2012.

Former Sec. Clinton with Pacific Islands Forum leaders in Rarotonga last year.

As Ambassador I have attended the Post-Forum Dialogue sessions of three Pacific Islands Forums (in Vanuatu, Auckland, and Rarotonga). The meetings were interesting and at times productive. As with most such conclaves, though, my mind drifted to how much more interesting and productive the conversation might be if the younger voices of promising future leaders were mixed in with those of the older, current leaders. FPL13 was the result of that persistent daydream.

Curious minds Naomi and Jone.

Delegates Naomi Woyengu and Jone Tamanikaimoturiki.

FPL13 opened in fine form. The Honorable Governor of American Samoa Lolo M. Moliga hosted a traditional Samoan ava ceremony to welcome delegates the evening everyone arrived in Pago Pago, followed by a banquet and impressive performances by the Leone High School Swing Choir and the Iakina SDA New Hope Singers. Miss Grace Pace of Teen Challenge American Samoa gave the opening invocation, and the Governor, a representative of the East-West Center, and I offered opening remarks.

The Leone high school choir.

The Leone choir in full swing.

Preparing the ava at the opening ceremony.

Preparing the ava at the opening ceremony.

Miss American Samoa performs the taualuga.

Miss American Samoa performs the taualuga at the end of the ceremony.

The next morning Dr. Jerry Finin (co-director of the East-West Center’s Pacific Islands Development Program) and I welcomed the delegates once again. My good friend His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Taisi Efi, the Head of State of Samoa, then formally opened the conference with a powerful address on leadership titled “Transforming Intelligence into Good Judgment.”

His Highness delivers a powerful address on leadership.

His Highness addresses delegates, dignitaries, presenters, and guests.

The Honorable Toke Talangi, Premier of Niue, offered strategic thoughts on “Facing the Future: Where and How Oceania Should be Engaging.” He was followed by Dr. Sitiveni Halapua, Member of Parliament from Tonga and Co-Director of the East-West Center Pacific Islands Development Program, who spoke on democracy and good governance.

Niue Premier Toke Talangi.

Niue Premier Toke Talangi addresses the conference.

Over the course of the next two days we ran a series of leadership trainings and expert-led break-out sessions on specific issues. One of the highlights was a presentation by Women in Business Development Inc Executive Director Adimaimalaga (Adi) Tafuna’i. Other expert discussion leaders included Dr. Allen Clark on natural resource management and sea-bed mining issues, and Dr. Nancy Lewis on non-communicable diseases, the leading cause of death in the Pacific islands.

Honorable Sitiveni Halapua facilitating discussion.

Tonga MP Sitiveni Halapua facilitates one of the break-out discussions.

Among the other presenters and facilitators were Dr. Falai Taafaki from the Government of the Marshall Islands, Mr. Solomon Kantha from the International Office for Migration in Papua New Guinea, and Pa’u Roy Ausuage, Director of Youth and Women’s Programs for the Government of American Samoa. As you can tell, a truly impressive list of experts and officials engaged with the delegates, who in turn enthusiastically and confidently engaged right back.

Final panel with Pa’u Roy Ausage, Solomon Kantha and Dr Falai Taafaki.

Pa’u Roy Ausage, Solomon Kantha, and Dr. Falai Taafaki lead a discussion group.

Delegates even had the opportunity to take a field trip to see the only “Science on the Sphere” south of the Equator, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.  Dr. Victoria Keener, a climate change expert from the East-West Center, used the Sphere to illustrate climate change data and projections, and led a dynamic discussion on climate change risk mitigation in the Pacific islands.

Dr Victoria Keener uses Science on the Sphere for her presentation.

Dr. Victoria Keener uses ‘Science on the Sphere’ to illustrate her points.

The real sphere struck back, in the form of an 8.0 earthquake in the Solomon Islands that provoked a tsunami watch throughout the Pacific, including for American Samoa. The heads of state and government in attendance were evacuated to higher ground, and we moved the delegates to the second floor of the hotel. We rearranged the agenda a bit and plowed forward in the 2nd floor hallway with our Deputy Chief of Mission from the American Embassy in Fiji, Jeff Robertson, leading the group through a Harvard Leadership Exercise.

Jeff Robertson guides delegates through a Harvard leadership exercise.

Our Embassy Suva’s Jeff Robertson guides delegates through a leadership exercise as we wait for further information about the potential tsunami.

Of course, the whole point of the conference was to help prepare the delegates for the leadership roles that they are likely to assume in the future. Near the end of agenda, I therefore circled back to share what I have observed and learned about leadership in my legal and diplomatic careers to date. I focused on the traits and approaches that I believe separate workmanly good leaders from impactful great leaders. The delegates jumped in with excellent questions, and another vigorous discussion ensued.

Hiku Jackson inviting me to open the leadership address.

New Zealand delegate Hiku Jackson introduces me. All speakers were formally introduced by delegates from their home countries.

I provided examples of outside dynamics and personal characteristics that can impede or defeat a leader, and I emphasized the importance of cultivating leadership potential in others if you really want to effect positive change and make a durable difference in your environment. I ended with a favorite quote of mine from Jack Welch:  “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

Oceania Café: Roundtable dialogue with resource speakers and delegates.

His Highness and I mix it up with delegates during one of the small-table discussions.

Of course, we didn’t work the delegates around the clock. There was time to relax, bond, and network, which are essential elements of professional and leadership development.  In addition to a couple of field trips and casual dinners, one evening we held an impromptu talent show in which each delegate shared a bit of home country culture.

DJ J Smooth – may or may not have ended up in the pool.

Delegate (and talent show instigator) DJ J Smooth (a.k.a. Joseph Iosua) starts the evening in Gangnam Style.

Even though no one had time to prepare, there were too many great performances — from graceful Cook Island siva, to fierce Niue haka, to exuberant Nauru hula, to hip modern dance moves from Palau and a very American Samoan Harlem Shake – for me to pick a favorite. To help represent my current home country, I joined New Zealand delegate Hiku Jackson for a rendition of the All Blacks haka.

Me and my Kiwi compatriots doing the Haka.

During the show.

On the final evening of the conference the Hon. Governor Lolo Moliga graciously invited delegates and presenters to dinner. There were moving prayers, great local entertainment, another grand meal, and gifts from the Governor including lava lavas, commemorative shirts, and cans of American Samoa’s famous Wahoo tuna. To thank the Governor for his generosity and support, two of our Samoan delegates presented him with a siapo on behalf of the group. The evening concluded with a special performance of the taualuga by the First Lady of American Samoa.

American Samoa delegate Jewel Vaka during a roundtable workshop.

Delegate Jewel Vaka checks her notes during a roundtable workshop.

While everyone seemed to have fun, the heart of the conference was the serious, substantive engagement – treating folks under age 25 as meaningful players, facilitating detailed discussion of complex issues, and listening to what the youth had to say. To me, it’s obvious that educating, empowering, and amplifying the young voices of the Pacific are not only the right things to do, but the smart things to do. No doubt about it.

Jone of Fiji, Theresa of Samoa, and Embassy staff Benj Harding.

Jone Tamanikaimoturiki, Theresa Penn, and my colleague Benj Harding.

And the delegates proved my point. They engaged in an intense, confident, and sophisticated manner, and made full use of the resources that we assembled. They quickly forged strong bonds with each other, forming what I hope will remain a vibrant pan-Pacific leadership and support network that further expands over time. The network is off to a good start — I’m told that the private Facebook page that we established for the delegates to continue their conversation has been heavily trafficked.

Me with the Future Leaders of the Pacific on the final day.

Family photo with the Future Leaders of the Pacific and a few presenters after we closed the conference with final thoughts from His Highness and a prayer by one of our American Samoan hosts.

In my view, the conference was an unequivocal success. I was so impressed that we’ve asked the #FPL13 delegates to select two spokespersons whom I will take with me to this year’s Pacific Islands Forum in Majuro, Marshall Islands so that they can observe the proceedings, participate in the Post-Forum Dialogue, and hopefully engage directly with additional island leaders.

I see no better investment in our shared Pacific future than convening, mentoring, and empowering our future leaders. So, we are going to continue the conference as an annual event. In fact, we have already started planning #FPL14. Stay tuned …

As you know from my tweets and instagrams, I had the great pleasure of spending last week on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands for the annual Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). For me, the highlight of the trip came Thursday evening when Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna, his Cabinet, dozens of performers, Dr. McWaine, and I greeted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the airport. It is always an honor for an Embassy to welcome a Secretary of State, but we were particularly delighted to receive a second visit in less than two years.

Secretary Clinton receives a traditional warm welcome on arrival in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.

An enthusiastic welcome for Secretary Clinton on the tarmac in the Cooks.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is welcomed to Rarotonga, the Cook Islands, August 30, 2012. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain],

Being greeted with singing, dancing, vibrant colors, and great enthusiasm.

The Secretary and I weren’t the only Americans in town for the Forum. I welcomed the largest and highest-level U.S. delegation ever to attend the gathering in its 41-year history. I made the same statement at last year’s PIF in Auckland, but this year our presence was even more extensive. With the Secretary and me were the U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Pacific Islands Forum (Frankie Reed); U.S. Ambassador to Australia (Jeff Bleich); U.S. Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu (Teddy Taylor) …

… Governor of American Samoa Togiola Tulafono; Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Dr. Esther Brimmer; Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs Tony Babauta; U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear; Coast Guard Commander Rear Admiral Charles Ray; and other officials from the White House, USAID, Peace Corps, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and several other agencies.

Rarotonga, the main island in the Cook Islands group.

Rarotonga, the main island in the Cook Islands.

Established in 1971, the Pacific Islands Forum is an annual regional event which brings together the leaders of 16 independent and self-governing states in the Pacific – Australia, The Cook Islands, The Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji (currently suspended), Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. With a permanent Secretariat in Suva, Fiji, the PIF is intended to stimulate regional economic growth and cooperation, and to improve security and governance across the region.

Each year after several days of meetings among the leaders of the PIF member nations, delegations from certain other nations join the leaders in a day of discussion known as the Post-Forum Dialogue. The Dialogue partners are development aid donor nations from within the Pacific region (such as the United States and Japan) and elsewhere (such as several European countries). Multilateral institutions (such as the World Bank) and NGOs (such as the East-West Center) also participate in the Dialogue.

Pacific Islands Forum.

PIF leaders meet during a session of the Forum.

The Secretary and indeed the entire American delegation came to work. As we did last year, my team and I scheduled our various principals for more than 120 separate meetings and public appearances with officials from other nations, NGOs, multilateral institutions, and businesses present. It was a punishing but highly productive schedule for the 48 hours or so that most of our visitors were in town.

Because of the late hour of her arrival, the Secretary went straight to her lodging after the tumultuous welcome at the airport. She started early the next day with a private breakfast meeting with the leaders of the Forum nations at one of my favorite island haunts, Trader Jacks on the wharf. The free-wheeling discussion was warm, candid, and substantive, touching on a wide range of issues and common objectives including ongoing negotiations to renew the Pacific tuna treaty.

The Secretary greets some locally-based American nuns during a visit to Rarotonga (Photo: - click through for image source)

On her way into Trader Jacks, the Secretary stops to greet several American nuns based on Rarotonga.

After more than an hour of discussion, the Secretary and island leaders drove to the National Auditorium for the formal start of the Post-Forum Dialogue. Each Dialogue partner made an official statement to the assemblage, and then Prime Minister Puna opened the floor for general discussion. In her remarks, the Secretary talked about America’s long history as a Pacific nation, noting that 70 years ago the U.S. had “made extraordinary sacrifices on many of the islands represented” and had since then “underwritten the security that has made it possible for the people of this region to trade and travel freely.”

During the morning recess, the Secretary greeted members of the public and viewed various exhibits of island products and projects displayed in the Auditorium courtyard. She and Prime Minister Peter O’Neill of Papua New Guinea then held a lengthy bilateral meeting that covered a variety of issues of importance to the two nations. Our Ambassador to PNG Teddy Taylor participated with the Secretary in the bilat while I met with several Cook Islands entrepreneurs about business and environmental projects being launched.

Secretary Clinton and Delegates to the Pacific Islands Forum pose for a family photo at the Cook Islands National Auditorium, August 31, 2012. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain]

Secretary Clinton poses for a family photo with Forum leaders and Post-Forum Dialogue heads of delegation. She is flanked by Prime Ministers Key (left) and Puna (right) of New Zealand and the Cook Islands, respectively.

When the bilat with Prime Minister O’Neill concluded, the Secretary and other members of our delegation drove the short distance up the hill to the residence of New Zealand’s High Commissioner to the Cook Islands, John Carter. There we had lunch with Prime Minister Key, Foreign Minister Murray McCully, and other Kiwi officials. The discussion was wide ranging and cordial, as one would expect among good friends with aligned values.

After lunch the Secretary and Prime Minister walked across the front lawn to meet the assembled American and Kiwi press. They made short statements and then entertained questions. In her statement the Secretary noted the close working relationship between the two countries. She also referenced new programs that the U.S. was launching at the Forum to support our Pacific island friends in several key areas including promoting sustainable economic development, protecting biodiversity, advancing regional security, and supporting the advancement of women in the Pacific.

Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand participate in a joint press availability at the Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, August 31, 2012.

Prime Minister Key and Secretary Clinton meet the press after lunch.

The next engagement on the agenda was a strategic trilateral discussion among the United States, Australia, and New Zealand led by the Secretary, Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Richard Marles, and Kiwi Foreign Minister Murray McCully. The discussion focused on promoting development and security cooperation in the Pacific, including with respect to issues of sustainability, good governance, and support for civil society and democratic institutions.

The American delegation then drove from the High Commissioner’s residence to Tamarind House to host an event commemorating America’s historic and ongoing peace and security partnerships in the Pacific, an issue of particular importance to the Obama Administration. The Secretary was joined on the beachfront dais by Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (a.k.a. Pacom) and Rear Admiral Charles Ray, District Commander of the 14th Coast Guard District based in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Secretary Clinton walks with Rear Admiral Charles W. Ray, U.S. Coast Guard, and Admiral Samuel J. “Sam” Locklear III, Commander U.S. Pacific Command, at an event commemorating U.S. peace and security partnerships in the Pacific at Tamarind House. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain]

Sec. Clinton arrives at Tamarind House with Admirals Locklear (right) and Ray (left).

The three principals took turns discussing America’s century-long engagement in the Pacific, particularly the vast contributions made by the United States to the regional peace and security that have allowed other nations to develop, grow, and prosper.

That’s a point too often overlooked. In an era of short attention spans, short memories, and binary thinking, it’s important to remind ourselves of the laws of cause and effect as well as of the broader, more complex context in which current events manifest.

The Secretary began her remarks by framing America’s engagement in the Pacific region as ”a model of partnerships that reflect our shared values, delivers practical benefits, and helps create stronger economies and societies. Our goal is to help the island nations of the Pacific realize their own aspirations, reach your own goals.”

She noted that “[w]e already work closely with our partners on a range of transnational and maritime security issues, including crime, trafficking in persons, nuclear nonproliferation, disaster response and preparedness,” and she announced that the U.S. is “doubling down” in two particular security areas – maritime awareness and unexploded World War II ordnance.

Maritime awareness is essential to protecting fisheries and other ocean resources. Under our Shiprider programs, U.S. Coast Guard ships and aircraft host Pacific island law enforcement officers, enabling them to patrol from our ships. As an example of what such partnerships can produce, just since 2009 we have facilitated the collection by Kiribati of more than US$ 4 million in fines for illegal fishing in its waters. The Secretary announced significant expansion of our Shiprider partnerships including utilizing U.S. Navy ships along with our Coast Guard.

The Secretary then discussed the human and environmental dangers posed by unexploded bombs and shells from World War II. She acknowledged that no one really knows the full extent of the problem, but that it had to be addressed aggressively. She announced that the U.S. Government would add an additional US$ 3.5 million to the millions already committed in recent years to help identify, remove, and destroy unexploded ordnance in the islands.

Frankie Reed, U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Pacific Islands Forum, welcomes Secretary Clinton Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain]

Amb. Frankie Reed introduces the Secretary at our Dialogue on Gender Equality.

We also convened at Tamarind House a group of women leaders from the member nations of the PIF including my good friend Adi Fafuna’i, about whom I wrote just a few weeks ago. Dubbed the Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality and led by another good friend of mine, Ambassador Frankie Reed, the gathering discussed at length the status of women in island societies as well as ways to empower women and girls socially, politically, and economically.

The Secretary joined the discussion after the peace and security event concluded. She noted the challenges faced by women in the Pacific — for example, four of only seven all-male legislatures left on Earth are in the region — and then reviewed the work of the Pacific Women’s Empowerment Initiative which she launched in 2010 in collaboration with Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the World Bank.

Building on the Empowerment Initiative, the Secretary announced the formation of a partnership of governments and organizations to support leadership training for women – especially those in Pacific university institutions and organizations - to be called the Rarotonga Partnership for the Advancement of Pacific Island Women. The East-West Center in Hawaii will coordinate regional education institutions and private partners to greatly expand leadership training, academic scholarships, and other educational opportunities for women in the network, thus creating new opportunities for Pacific women to assume prominent roles in public service and private enterprise.

The Secretary poses with attendees at the Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality.

Posing with delegates who participated in our Dialogue on Gender Equality.

No matter how busy the schedule when she travels, Secretary Clinton always insists on meeting with the State Department personnel involved in the event or trip to thank them for their service. Thus, I assembled the officers and staff in country from Embassy Wellington, Consulate General Auckland, Embassy Apia, and several other American Missions as well. The Secretary spoke about the importance of the work of the Department, posed for photos, and then walked across the beach to our next event.

Hosted by Cook Islands Prime Minister Puna, the final official engagement of the day focused on sustainable development and ocean conservation. The Prime Minister discussed the Cooks’ thriving black pearl industry and laid out his vision for a Pacific Oceanscape of marine reserves, responsible stewardship of marine resources, and economic development compatible with environmental protection.

Secretary Clinton speaks at the Sustainable Development and Conservation Event. [State Department photo by Ola Thorsen/ Public Domain]

Secretary Clinton speaks at the Sustainable Development and Conservation Event.

In her responsive remarks, the Secretary thanked the Prime Minister for his warm hospitality, commended him on his excellent leadership of the Forum, and acknowledged his inspirational commitment to conservation.

She announced two new programs through USAID – one to work with coastal communities to increase their indigenous capacity to adapt to climate change, and the other to help develop the region’s renewable energy resources by providing training and education for technicians and engineers to install, maintain, and repair solar energy equipment.

With respect to other conservation issues, the Secretary talked about American efforts to persuade the international community to declare Antarctica’s Ross Sea, one of the last great marine wildernesses left on Earth, as a marine protected area. It’s a difficult struggle, but the right thing to do.

She also talked about new cooperative programs with Kiribati to protect marine ecosystems, and explained how the State Department’s Pacific islands diaspora project was working to offer entrepreneurs access to capital and technical assistance to advance sustainable, environmentally sensitive economic development in their countries of origin or heritage in the region.

After the formal remarks concluded, the Prime Minister and Secretary mingled with the hundred or so Cook Island business and civic leaders present, and continued their discussion of the Cooks’ pearl and tourism industries. It was a glorious beach setting under clear blue skies, and no one seemed anxious to leave despite the setting of the sun.

In all, over the course of the day Secretary Clinton launched a large number of new initiatives of mutual benefit to the island nations and the United States on issues of regional security, sustainable development, marine protection, climate change, gender equality, education, and economic partnership. Oriented toward capacity building, people-to-people engagement, and entrepreneurial self-reliance, the initiatives provide a recipe for empowerment, not dependency.

The Secretary visits Avarua’s Saturday morning market during her free time in Rarotonga - Click through for image source - Hindustan Times

The Secretary takes a stroll in town after PIF meetings ended.

In addition to the specific projects discussed above, I thought I’d share a small sample of the other U.S. initiatives and commitments discussed during the PIF. They aren’t things that you’d notice while walking down the street, and they certainly aren’t sexy or salacious enought to be reported in the papers, but they are transformative in their cumulative impact in the region. And they represent just part of the direct American commitment to the islands which totals approximately US$ 350 million per year. Again, just a quick sampling from meetings in which I participated:

Environmental Stewardship: The United States is committed to working with the Pacific islands to protect the unique marine resources of the Pacific and will explore with Kiribati areas of cooperation on the protection, preservation, and conservation management of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (which together account for 244,514 square miles of protected marine areas).

Climate Change: Recognizing that climate change is one of the most pressing concerns for the peoples of the Pacific, the United States is working to build capacity in the region to help communities adapt to the effects of climate change.  In addition to the US$ 25 million Coastal Community Adaption Program already described, the United States is also establishing Vocational Training and Education for Clean Energy (VOCTEC), a US$ 1 million program aimed at generating and sustaining renewable energy investments.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, Esther Brimmer, at the Post Forum Dialogue.

Assistant Secretary of State for Int’l Organizations, Esther Brimmer, at the Post-Forum Dialogue.

Pacific Partnership: Next year, the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Partnership exercise will return to the Pacific, including Samoa.  Pacific Partnership deployments collectively have provided medical, dental, and educational services to 250,000 people and completed more than 150 engineering projects in 15 countries.

Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice to Combat Environmental Crimes: The State Department will continue to help link the countries in the region to increase capacity building for anti-corruption, law enforcement, and rule of law communities.  The State Department and the Department of Justice are supporting a new prosecutor-led Natural Resource Crimes Task Force in Indonesia that could serve as a model for Pacific nations on improving prosecution of natural resource crimes.

Developing Economic Linkages:  In recognition of the cultural and economic ties between the United States and Pacific islands, the Department of State is partnering with the PIF Secretariat’s Pacific Islands Trade & Invest to launch the Pacific Islands IdEA Marketplace (PIIM).

PIIM is being implemented within the context of the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA), an innovative program that has successfully linked diasporas to local populations in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America.  PIIM collaborators will develop a competition that seeks out innovative ideas to promote economic development and reduce the vulnerability of populations to natural disaster.  Winners will be provided with technical assistance for developing their business plans and access to project financing and entrepreneurial networks.

Economic Growth and Prosperity:  Ex-Im Bank is active in the region and seeks to provide financing for the procurement of U.S. equipment and services in most PIF countries.  Over the past three years Ex-Im has supported financing in the amount of approximately US$ 7 billion dollars for projects in the Pacific including new liquid natural gas project developments in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

More Economic Growth and Prosperity: Since 1980, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has invested more than US$ 341 million dollars in the Pacific region, supporting investment and development in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Micronesia.  OPIC currently has more than US$ 45 million in investments and insurance in the Pacific Islands region, and is actively looking to support viable projects in the region. 

The Cook Islands offers up beautiful beaches and a rich marine environment. [State Department photo - Public Domain]

The Cook Islands offers beautiful beaches and a rich marine environment.

USAID: The recently opened USAID office in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea is already managing a diverse portfolio of development projects in the South Pacific region.

Constitutional Development and Democracy: For example, this year USAID has provided nearly US$ 2 million to support democratic institutions in Fiji as well as free and fair elections in Papua New Guinea.

Regional Project Support:  The Regional Environmental Office of U.S. Embassy Suva provides between US$ 75,000 and US$ 125,000 per year in numerous small grants for local projects throughout the region tackling both environmental and health issues.

PIF Youth Conference:  This will be a conference sponsored by Embassy Wellington for youth leaders from each of the 16 member countries of the PIF to discuss key political, economic, environmental, and social issues in the region and to create a Pacific youth leaders network that will continue to communicate following the conference.

Interior of the Cook Islands from the Cross Island Track.

Near the center of Rarotonga island, on the Cross Island Track.

American Youth Leadership Program with Samoa: 20 American participants will travel to Samoa for a four-week exchange in December 2013 to study food security and nutrition alongside twenty Samoan teens.

Adopt the Airport Project: This project plans to transform unused land beside the Majuro Airport in the Marshall Islands into the atoll’s largest eco-friendly outdoor exercise facility.

Pacific Islands Sports Visitor Program: Focused on hearing-impaired track and field athletes, this program planned for early 2013 will reinforce awareness, locally and regionally, about disability inclusion especially for youth.

American Samoa: Governor Togiola Tulafono of American Samoa also had a busy week of meetings, including finalizing and signing an MoU with the Cook Islands to work cooperatively on a South Pacific Albacore management regime, the monitoring of Cook Island flagged vessels using the port of Pago Pago, the exchange of fisheries related information and research, and personnel exchange visits.

Governor of American Samoa, Togiola Tulafono, signing an MoU with the Cook Islands’ Minister of Marine Resources, Teina Bishop at the National Auditorium.

Governor Togiola Tulafono (seated, right) signs an MoU with Cook Islands Minister of Marine Resources Bishop.

Strengthening Democracy to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change on Public Health: This project aims to expand on a newly published book, Public Health Impacts of Climate Change in Palau, by Southern Illinois University and funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through a television and print campaign to raise awareness and foster discussion about the impacts of climate change on public health.

Economic Innovation Fund / Transition from Substance Living to Market Economy: This program will work in conjunction with the Federated States of Micronesia’s current program designed to improve income for rural communities and increase household nutrition standards.

Leadership Development:  The East-West Center will partner with other regional donors on a US$ 3 million program to provide leadership development and skills training for 125 young Pacific islanders.

The Secretary greets people during a visit to the Avarua markets in Rarotonga (Photo: AFP - click through for image source.)

The Secretary greets people at the market in Avarua.

Yes, that’s a blizzard of work and a lot of official meetings. But there was also time for direct engagement with the people of the Cook Islands. Secretary Clinton enjoyed a couple hours talking with shoppers in local markets, walking along the beach, and dining in local eateries. “Auntie Hillary” was the talk of the town, and signs welcoming her or offering special deals (e.g., “Free Ice Cream for Anyone Named Hillary Clinton”) were evident across the island.

Unfortunately, the Secretary’s visit was brief and soon over. The PIF was just the first stop on a long trip that would take her onward to Australia, Indonesia, Brunei, Timor Leste, China, Russia, and other locations on a tight schedule. So, shortly after being welcomed, she was back at the airport being farewelled by Prime Minister Puna, other Cook Island officials, Dr. McWaine, and me.

L to R: Cook Islands PM Henry Puna, Amb Huebner, Secretary Clinton, Mrs Akaiti Puna.

Bidding the Secretary farewell with Prime Minister Puna and Mrs. Akaiti Puna.

I’ll leave you with the closing words from one of the Secretary’s public statements in the Cooks which nicely summarize the tone and orientation of American engagement in the Pacific:

“The United States is proud to support our many partnerships and our longstanding friendships in the region. Seventy years ago our countries stood together to fight for security and peace in the Pacific. At the end of that terrible world war, who could have predicted where we would be in 70 years?

“The United States did not leave the Pacific after that, instead we focused on making sure that the region continued to be safe and secure so that you could develop, you could pursue commerce, you could raise your children in peace, you could become more prosperous. We’re going to work together to ensure that all the people of the Pacific islands, in the 21st Century, have the chance to fulfill their own God-given potential. That is the hope that the United States brings to our partnerships and our friendships.

“We have put very real initiatives behind these hopes and these commitments, and we will be with you over the years and decades, and I would predict over centuries to come, as we see these islands continue to prosper, to go from strength to strength.”