Australia has offered to play the role of peacemaker as Pacific leaders attempt to reconcile with Kiribati, saying that the doors of the Pacific Islands Forum will always be open to the Melanesian nation.
Kiribati President Taneti Maamau has stated that discussions leading to the Suva Agreement, which ended Micronesia’s quarrel with the Forum, were made without their participation and no consideration was shown for their National Day which was on the day the leaders meeting started.
Australia’s foreign minister Penny Wong said the Pacific is stronger together.
As she highlighted the importance of having a united Pacific, she said the Pacific was ready to begin reconciliation with Kiribati.
“I said today at the Leaders’ Forum Dialogue that we are here to listen and learn. It’s obviously my first Forum and it was very important to listen to the contributions from the various perspectives of presidents and prime ministers around the table and I gained a lot from it,” she said.
“I note the position that the President of Kiribati has articulated, and I say, along with all other members of the Forum, that we seek reconciliation, and we hope that progress can be made there,” she said.
“In that vein, I wish the President and the people of Kiribati all the best on their national day, which is today.
“With the Kiribati breakaway I think Australia has taken the view that we should facilitate the discussions and the cooperation between the Micronesians and prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama and others. That’s the approach we’re taking.”
The Fijian prime minister is the chair of the Pacific Island Forum. A traditional Fijian welcome was accorded to the Pacific leaders on Tuesday evening.
Mr Bainimarama wasted no time in saying that Kiribati was family. He said as a proud Pacific Islander that the Pacific is most resilient as a family.
“We speak more powerfully as a family; and we can only build our best possible future, together, as a family. And in my capacity as chair, I assure every one of our Pacific sisters and brothers that there is a seat at this table open to you. Among us you will always sit as equals,” he said.
“The people and Government of Kiribati have been and will remain always, a part of our Pacific family. I respect the current position of His Excellency, Taneti Maamau, President of the Republic of Kiribati and his government.”
Mr Bainimarama said dialogues will continue towards a resolution.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was better to understand issues faced by Micronesia and how resolution could be supported.
She hinted that the impasse could be over soon as follow up conversations were left.
From the opening session of the leaders meeting it was clear that Micronesia and its needs would be put first in the region’s bid for a united Pacific.
This was also evident in the traditional Fijian welcome ceremony accorded to the leaders. The whale’s tooth (tabua in Fijian) was handed to the David Panuelo, the President of the Federated States of Micronesia, and he was the one asked to reply to the welcome remarks.
This is an honour almost always given to the highest ranking chief or leader.