Pacific and world leaders gather in Auckland today for what promises to be the most important Pacific Islands Forum meeting in decades. Thomas R. Nides, US Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, gives his perspective on the most pressing issues facing the region.
The United States, as a Pacific nation, has an enduring bond with the Pacific region. This week, our country will reaffirm that bond when I lead the most diverse and highest-level US delegation ever to participate in the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in Auckland. The size and scope of our participation - which includes senior officials from the White House, Departments of State, Commerce, Defence, the United States Agency for International Development (USAid), the Coast Guard, and the Peace Corps - demonstrate US commitment to the security and economic prosperity of the Pacific through the 21st century.
This 42nd PIF leaders meeting aims to be one of the most consequential meetings in the Pacific in decades. Together we can help the Pacific Islands Forum become a more effective, results-oriented institution - one capable of addressing the region's most pressing challenges. So, for the first time, Secretary Clinton has designated a Special Representative to the PIF to better co-ordinate efforts and serve the interests of the Pacific community, including the United States.
The Pacific region is undergoing many positive, transformative changes, ranging from democratic reforms to rising living standards to robust international engagement. But complex and challenging problems, such as poverty, resource mismanagement, climate change, and environmental degradation, threaten the region's prosperity and security. Confronting these problems demands that governments truly represent their people. That's why we are working with Australia, New Zealand, and others to urge the Bainimarama regime in Fiji to take concrete steps toward free and fair elections in 2014, a return to full democracy, and respect for the rule of law.
In addition to political freedom, the United States remains dedicated to fostering development and economic growth. The Peace Corps is central to those efforts. Since 1966, we've sent more than 12,500 volunteers to the region. These Americans - serving in a wide range of sectors including education, health, microfinance and agriculture - dedicate themselves to improving the lives of our friends in the Pacific. The United States has many other assistance efforts underway as well, from HIV/Aids programmes in Papua New Guinea to efforts to enhance the role of women and girls in Vanuatu. To build on this good work, the USAid Pacific office in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea will open before the end of 2011 to help address the development challenges of the region.
We're also working with our partners in the region on climate change adaptation, health, and maritime security. The Pacific Islands are among the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. The US Pacific Command's Pacific Partnership Initiative, which engages in medical, dental, veterinary, engineering and community service action projects along with partner countries from across the region, represents our strong commitment to improving living standards and local capacity to respond to climate change. This commitment is also demonstrated through our partnership with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme. To improve maritime security, we've signed six bilateral "Shiprider" agreements with Pacific Island countries and we plan to sign two more agreements, with Tuvalu and Nauru. These agreements allow us to extend the reach and power of partner nation law enforcement officers by hosting them on our US Coast Guard cutters so they can enforce their national laws more effectively. These operations provide for co-operation in maritime surveillance and professional exchange between our maritime and law enforcement professionals.
Finally, the United States recognises that fisheries are invaluable to Pacific Islands' economic development. For decades the United States has partnered with the Pacific Islands to achieve the sustainable management of Pacific fisheries resources and combat illegal fishing. We remain committed to this shared goal and strengthening ways to work together. We also recognise that the South Pacific Tuna Treaty is critical to this effort. We welcome the progress made in the most recent negotiation round in Samoa and encourage all parties to take the necessary steps to ensure the treaty does not lapse.
We value our strong friendships in the Pacific and we are grateful for the consistent support from Pacific nations in the United Nations and elsewhere. We deeply appreciate and honour the contributions of many Pacific countries to uphold freedom and democratic principles. The sacrifices their citizens make on behalf of others, many thousands of miles from home, reflect the highest values of Pacific Islanders and underscore the Pacific Islands' importance to the global community and to the national interests of the United States.