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Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Dinner for the Second U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum Summit – United States Department of State

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Good evening, everyone.  Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the State Department and to the Benjamin Franklin Room.  Esteemed guests and friends from across the Pacific, it is my honor to welcome you tonight to our dinner program and to introduce our co-hosts, the Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.  My name is Dan Kritenbrink; I’m the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs here at the State Department, and this is the best day of the year for me.  Truly honored and delighted to have so many friends across the Pacific here with us this evening.

It was an equal pleasure to be with so many of you last week in New York, where there were a number of truly momentous Pacific Island events, including a Partners in the Blue Pacific ministerial last Friday.  And it’s an even greater pleasure to have you all back here in Washington for this historic second U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum Summit.

To start our dinner program this evening, I would like to welcome to the podium our Secretary of State, the Honorable Antony Blinken.  Mr. Secretary.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good evening, everyone.

AUDIENCE:  Good evening.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It is wonderful to have you here at the State Department and here in the Benjamin Franklin Room.  I believe that this might be the first event, first gathering we’ve had since this room was refurbished over the last six months or so.  So if you – if there’s a faint smell of paint, that might explain it.  (Laughter.)

But you can see Mr. Franklin looking down upon us this evening, as he always does in this room.  And as I was just sharing with some of our friends at this table, he, of course, was America’s first diplomat.  He signed our first treaty.  Our ambassador to France.  He charted the Gulf Stream.  He helped pioneer electricity.  He gave us our ethos of self-government.  And of course, none of this did he do while sober.  (Laughter.)  So there may be some instruction there for the evening.  I leave that to you to decide.  (Laughter.)

But to all of you, thank you so much for joining us this evening.  And Prime Minister Brown, Secretary General Puna, Pacific Island leaders:  Thank you for coming to Washington for the second U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum Summit.

A little over 50 years ago, leaders from the seven Pacific Island nations met in Wellington to chart the course for a safer, more peaceful, and more prosperous region.

Over the past half century, the Pacific Islands Forum has worked to live up to that responsibility for the people of its diverse nations: helping preserve their vital natural resources; expanding their economic opportunities; safeguarding their health, most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This forum did something else that was crucial:  It recognized the global resonance of these aspirations – and it drove collective action to address them.  Supporting territories in their right to self-determination.  Playing an outsized role in negotiating the Paris Climate Accords.  Shaping the Sustainable Development Goals, especially their focus on conserving the world’s oceans, seas, and marine ecosystems.  Making the United Nations more inclusive, and better at giving a voice to all of its member-states.  These are goals that the United States shares and is fully committed to supporting, as President Biden made clear at the United Nations just last week.

Because of the leadership of the Pacific Islands, big countries and small states alike are better positioned to choose their own path, enjoy greater access to clean air and water, and protect more of the planet for their children and their grandchildren.

Now, part of building a better future is attending to the consequences of the past.  On that note, I just want to reiterate what President Biden said earlier today.  We are committed to addressing the legacy of World War II and the Cold War across the Pacific, and specifically to advancing compacts of free association negotiations in a way that addresses the Marshall Islands’ ongoing environmental, public health, and other welfare concerns.

Prime Minister Brown, you said recently, and I quote:  “In the year 2050, those of us seated around the table certainly would have moved on from where we are today.  But our [young people], our future Leaders, [they] will look back at this period as a key moment in the history of the Forum.”  That is very much a sentiment that President Biden shares – not only for this region, but for the world.  He likes to talk about it as an inflection point where the work that we’re doing now will shape not just the years ahead but the decades ahead.

Ensuring that we’re seizing on the possibilities of this moment to build a more secure, a more resilient, a more inclusive, a more prosperous region – that’s the spirit behind this summit.  And that’s the spirit behind our shared work: to strengthen climate resilience; to protect the region’s natural resources; to increase digital connectivity; to create greater opportunity for all of our people.

As fellow Pacific nations, the fundamental fact is this:  Our fates are tied together.  And we’ve never been more committed to our shared vision for the future.

So to each and every one of you, thank you for your leadership.  Thank you for your partnership.  Thank you not just for today, but for all the days that will follow.

And with that, it is a great pleasure and honor to turn the microphone over to Prime Minister Brown.  Mr. Prime Minister.  (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER BROWN:  Well, good evening, everybody.

AUDIENCE:  Good evening.

PRIME MINISTER BROWN:  Okay.  I suggest you have a glass of wine and then we’ll start again.  (Laughter.)  Wonderful to have you all here.  I have not got anything prepared for this other than to say and to repeat again, to get all the Pacific leaders into a room here not just once but twice, the second time that we’ve come to the White House, really is a remarkable achievement by both the administration of President Biden and your officials – and there are numerous that I know because my officials have been talking on a virtually daily basis with your State Department officials, and some of them are very, very effective – no names mentioned, Dr. Campbell – (laughter) – at getting things done.

But it is a remarkable achievement to have our leaders here, and it shows and demonstrates the commitment of the President Biden’s administration to the Pacific, and in particular the challenges and issues that we as Pacific leaders have highlighted over many years, the issues that we feel are priorities and the issues that we feel our development partners should be focusing their efforts on.

So this opportunity not just today but also tomorrow that we’re going to have is a terrific opportunity for all of us within the region to make sure that our voices are heard and that they are clearly articulated.  Because the theme for our leaders meeting in November, where I look forward to welcome you all to Rarotonga, is “Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Pacific Way: to Promote, to Partner, to Prosper.”  And that is really the theme of what we’re about.

We met with President Biden and he generously gave a significant amount of his time today to meet, despite pressing domestic concerns.  And we know they were pressing domestic concerns because when the media came in, they asked him about the car strike, the picket line, and a few other things.  (Laughter.)  I don’t think they saw the lineup of Pacific Island countries because there was no questions about the Pacific Islands.  (Laughter.)  So all I can say is, as far as the American media, there are no pressing concerns with the Pacific Islands.  (Laughter.)  So keep what you’re doing – doing what you’re doing, Secretary Blinken.  It’s okay in the eyes of the American media.

But in saying that, I certainly do look forward to welcoming you, those who will be coming to Rarotonga in November.  It is an opportunity for us to send a clear message as a bloc, as a region, when we do attend the COP meeting.  And again, these are important, important venues, important occasions for us to stand up and be heard.

John Kerry asked a question at our engagement this afternoon.  He said:  What do you want out of COP?  And really, the messaging that came back is there are two things as Pacific countries that we want out of COP.  One of them is what other countries will need to do, and the other one is what we Pacific countries will need to do.

And what we want other countries to do – and we have no control over what they can do – is to reduce their carbon emissions, because it is the carbon emissions that’s causing the impacts of climate change that hit our Pacific region so very, very hard, so damaging.  So in light of the fact that the IPCC report provides grim reading for climate impacts going into the future, all we can do is try and protect ourselves.

Which is why the second part of the equation – what we want – is to be able to build resilience in our countries.  Resilience against the impacts of climate change, infrastructure, food safety, water security – all of these are key issues, in some of our countries more than others.  The fact that we have to now put a declaration through the United Nations to recognize the maritime boundaries of our countries in the face of sea level rise really is a confronting issue that we face.  A new declaration coming forward is a recognition of the statehood of people from Pacific countries.  To have to put that to a declaration when we know these countries are at threat of going underwater – I can’t think of any more confronting declaration than that.

So if countries are serious about helping Pacific members in their fight against climate impacts, to build resilience, our Pacific Resilience Facility is what we are taking to the COP for them to put their money where their mouth is and help countries like ours survive a little bit more as the rest of the world tries to reduce their carbon emissions and reduce the impacts of climate change.  It’s a real challenge, but that’s what before us.

So tonight I urge you all to enjoy the dinner and enjoy the wine on behalf of Secretary Blinken.  Thank you very much for putting us into a good mood.  We look forward to tomorrow’s engagements.  Thank you. (In foreign language.)  (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Thank you very much, Prime Minister Brown, for those remarks.

I now have the honor of introducing our other co-host this evening, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the Honorable Linda Thomas-Greenfield.  Madam Ambassador.  (Applause.)  Great to have you here.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Thank you very much.   Let me thank Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink for introducing us and being part of our event tonight.  And thank you, Secretary Blinken, for co-hosting this dinner with me.

It really is an honor for me to be here tonight with such a distinguished group of leaders from across the Pacific Islands.  And I want to express my deep appreciation to President Whipps and the Palau delegation for hosting the Pacific Island reception last week in New York.  I apologized for arriving very, very late, but the party was still going strong.  (Laughter.)  And I heard it went till midnight, and I learned about “island time.”  So I really wasn’t late, I was just on island time.  (Laughter.)  But it was an extraordinary event.  It was a wonderful celebration of culture and food and people-to-people interactions that make the Pacific Islands so rich and so diverse.

As the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, I have the opportunity to work closely with leaders from the Pacific Islands as we strive to maintain international peace and security and take on today’s global challenges.  There’s perhaps no more pressing global challenge than the climate crisis, which, as you all know too well, is already having a devastating impact on large ocean countries.  The global challenge requires a global response.  And President Biden is committed to helping galvanize sustained international cooperation.

In his – in this work, we’re looking to your countries for leadership.  We’re looking to you for guidance.  You understand better than anyone the challenges and opportunities facing your region.  It’s our job to listen and to support the needs of your people through bold action, adaptation and resilience efforts, and sustainable development.  Last week at the UN General Assembly, the United States joined with leaders from around the world to reaffirm our commitments to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  It was a testament to our collective resolve, and a testament to the UN’s ability to facilitate development dialogue and diplomacy.

But right now, colleagues, the UN and our very international system is being tested.  When Russia launched its illegal invasion of Ukraine, it struck at the heart of the UN Charter, and it threatened the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence that we all hold so dear.  I’m immensely grateful that Pacific Island countries have stood with us to condemn Russia’s brutal war of aggression, to make clear that might does not make right, and that the sanctity of the international system is worth defending and all countries have a role to play in its defense.  (Applause.)

Tonight I’m proud to share that I have the honor of having been designated to lead the U.S. delegation to the Pacific Islands Forum Summit, which will – (applause) – this will be yet another opportunity to deepen and broaden our partnerships.  And I’m looking forward to seeing all of you in the Cook Islands in November.

Thank you again for joining us tonight as we celebrate the deep history our nations share and the future that we will write together.  Now please join me in inviting Prime Minister Natano to say a few words. (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER NATANO:  Thank you, Madam Ambassador.  Secretary of State Blinken, esteemed leaders, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to join my esteemed colleagues, leaders, in expressing my deepest appreciation to Secretary Blinken for graciously hosting us for dinner tonight.  This wonderful gathering provided us with a valuable opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions on critical matters pertaining to our partnership.  We are privileged to have had this chance to exchange ideas and perspectives, enabling us to further strengthen the bond between the U.S. and Pacific countries.

As we gather here, it is evident that the current multilateral architecture no longer serves our pressing needs.  This sentiment has been echoed by my fellow leaders, and most emphasized during our meeting today at the White House with President Biden.  We find ourselves in an urgent global crisis, a climate war, where our planet is on the verge of defeat.  It is clear that our existing multilateral system has fallen short in addressing this critical issue.

United Nations secretary-general and small island developing states have been vocal in their calls for reform.  However, these pleas have remained unanswered as the system continues to be controlled by powerful developed nations who prioritize maintaining their status quo.

In light of this, we turn to the United States with hope, urging support in advocating for necessary reforms.  We encourage the U.S. to actively work towards amplifying the Pacific voices within decision-making platforms, and strive to place specific leaders in positions of influence.  Furthermore, we implore the U.S. to lead the charge in reforming the United Nations Security Council, ensuring it becomes more inclusive and representative.

Specifically, we call upon the U.S. to stand by us in adopting the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index at the upcoming fourth International Conference for Small Island Developing States.  We urge all nations to recognize the significance of developing vulnerability measures further and to incorporate such metrics into relevant international processes.  It is crucial to acknowledge vulnerability when allocating development assistance, as it allows for a more equitable distribution of resources.

Moreover, we believe it is imperative that all multilateral institutions, including large climate funds, integrate the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index into their finance assessment processes.  By doing so, we can ensure a more comprehensive and just evaluation of funding allocations.

Together, let us seize this opportunity for reform and (inaudible) in a new era of multilateralism that serves the needs of our changing world.  As vulnerable nations on the front lines of the climate crisis, we rely on your support and collective action to secure a sustainable future for all.  I thank you.  (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Well, thank you very much, Prime Minister Natano, for those truly eloquent and moving remarks.  It is we who are privileged to have heard your remarks just now.

That concludes our open press portion of tonight’s program, so I would now ask our friends from the media to please depart.  Thank you very much.

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