By Kirsty Needham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Pacific island leaders will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a high-level US delegation in Papua New Guinea on Monday, Fiji officials said, without US President Joe Biden, who has canceled his attendance at talks.
Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka confirmed talks would continue after Biden pulled out of Papua New Guinea’s visit over debt ceiling negotiations in Washington, a move seen by some as a blow to diplomacy. American in the region.
Biden was expected to meet with 18 leaders of the region’s main bloc, the Pacific Islands Forum, and sign a defense cooperation agreement with PNG on Monday.
PNG Prime Minister James Marape is expected to announce details of the defense pact with the United States on Thursday, his office told Reuters.
Fiji said Pacific leaders will hold talks with Modi on regional cooperation. They would also meet later Monday with a US delegation to discuss “critical areas of cooperation and challenges for the region and the US.”
“The meeting demonstrates the deep historical and people-to-people ties of the United States and the Pacific,” Rabuka’s office said in a statement, adding that climate change, protection of maritime resources and economic growth were priorities.
The chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Cook Islands Premier Mark Brown, said the regional meeting had originally been arranged between the Pacific countries and India, and their plans to travel to PNG had not changed.
Brown told Reuters that he welcomed “the increased engagement from the largest countries in the Pacific as an opportunity to discuss and articulate the challenges and opportunities of the Pacific at a leadership level.”
Analysts said the cancellation of Biden’s visit, the first by a sitting US president to an independent Pacific island country, could damage US credibility amid competition for influence with China in the region. strategically located.
The PNG Post Courier wrote in an editorial on Thursday: “The Chinese are at least happy for now.”
Biden will host another summit of Pacific island leaders this year after disappointment caused by the cancellation of his visit to PNG, his national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Stephen Coates)