VANUATU - The endorsement of the Fijian military regime by some Pacific countries is unlikely to affect the Pacific Islands Forum and its suspension of Fiji, says Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.
Mr McCully and Prime Minister John Key arrived in Vanuatu last night for the forum, at which Fiji's suspension will be discussed.
Fiji, which has been ruled by military leader Frank Bainimarama since 2006, was suspended last year for its failure to hold democratic elections.
But it won endorsement at a summit last week for its plan to hold democratic elections in September 2014.
The summit in Fiji, called Engaging with the Pacific, was attended by representatives of 10 nations, including the heads of the governments of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu.
The summit is certain to be discussed in Vanuatu this week.
The endorsement raises the prospect of lifting the suspension, but Mr McCully said the summit was not significant.
"At the end of the day, some people were invited to a meeting and they went. Some of them are very close neighbours and friends, and it is the Melanesian custom to behave in that way.
"The fact that they had a meeting is perfectly understandable and not at all threatening to the region or the forum."
He said it was more significant that the Melanesian Spearhead Group - touted by Commodore Bainimarama as an alternative to the forum - had cancelled its meeting this year because of a lack of democracy in Fiji.
After it was cancelled, Commodore Bainimarama expelled Australian acting head of mission Sarah Roberts for what he said was Australian interference in Fiji's affairs.
Mr Key said he did not expect a change in the forum's stance on Fiji this week, nor was he aware of any attempts from other leaders to try to have the suspension lifted.
Mr McCully said 2014 was too far away for elections, and Fiji needed to show a greater willingness to engage.
He said the suspension of Fiji was a matter for forum leaders, "but this is all very regrettable".
"Fiji is an important hub within the Pacific. Their economy is suffering as a consequence of their exclusion from some international engagement and from some assistance being withheld, and that flows through to other countries, particularly those most dependent on them, such as Kiribati and Tuvalu," said Mr McCully, who was "relaxed" about Fiji being formally engaged in the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations.
He said aid would be a main point of discussion at the forum.
41st PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM, VANUATU
16 countries make up the forum: New Zealand, Australia, Samoa, Tonga, Nauru, Palau, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, the Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Nauru, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji (suspended).
WHO'S NOT THERE?
Elections in Australia and the Solomon Islands mean Prime Ministers Julia Gillard and Derek Sikua will not be attending. Papua New Guinea's Sir Michael Somare is a late no-show. Despite these absences, Prime Minister John Key said he did not think that the forum would be a "fizzer".
WHAT'S ON NZ'S RADAR?
* Meetings with Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, including discussions on an offshore detention centre for asylum seekers.
* New initiatives for New Zealand aid to the Pacific
* The report from the Ministerial Contact Group on Fiji, and the continued suspension of Fiji.
WHO IS JOHN KEY MEETING?
There will be an opportunity to meet all leaders, but meetings are scheduled with representatives of Australia, Vanuatu and Tonga.By Derek Cheng Email Derek