Remarks by a Senior Administration Official During a Telephonic Background Briefing on Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s Travel to the Cook Islands

Senior Administration Official
November 6, 2023


MODERATOR: Good afternoon, all. Welcome to our background briefing on Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s travel to the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. For your information only and not for reporting, we have with us today [Senior Administration Official]. What you hear on this call can be attributed to a senior administration official. This call is embargoed until its conclusion. With that, I’ll turn it over to [Senior Administration Official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, everybody. Good afternoon and thanks for hopping on the call. As mentioned, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will lead the U.S. delegation to the 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, from November 8 to 10, later this week. The Ambassador will be the first U.S. cabinet official to visit Rarotonga since the United States established formal diplomatic relations with the Cook Islands just this past September.

The Biden-Harris administration has elevated the U.S. diplomatic, development, and security partnership with Pacific Island countries across the board. Among our many shared accomplishments, we’ve committed to working with Congress to provide over $8 billion in new funding and programs for the Pacific Islands. We’ve recognized, as I just mentioned, the Cook Islands and Niue as independent, sovereign nations. We’ve opened embassies in the Solomon Islands and Tonga, and we intend to open another embassy in Vanuatu in 2024. We opened a USAID, U.S. Agency for International Development, Regional Pacific Mission in Fiji and a Country Representative Office in Papua New Guinea, and we signed compact-related economic assistance agreements with all three of our compact partners.

In leading – well, let me just say in this administration as well, the President has led this engagement with the Pacific Islands. President Biden hosted the first U.S.-Pacific Islands Summit in September of 2022, and just this past September the President hosted the Pacific Islands Forum Summit at the White House on September 25th. And at that meeting, as part of the events associated with that meeting, we announced that Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield would represent the United States at this next summit, the one that’s happening later this week.

I should also mention that last year the U.S. issued the first-ever U.S. Pacific Partnership Strategy, and that’s been guiding our engagement, our stepped-up engagement, with Pacific Island countries across the board.

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will lead a robust U.S. delegation comprising officials from USAID, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Peace Corps, and the State Department, the National Security Council, and other U.S. agencies and departments at a senior level. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield in her trip will help further solidify the enduring U.S. high-level commitment and partnership to the Pacific Islands.

Let me just say a couple of words about the trip and then we can get to your questions.

While at the Pacific Islands Forum Summit, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will reaffirm the United States commitment to galvanizing international cooperation to advance Sustainable Development Goals and other critical issues, including addressing the climate crisis and addressing sustainable development, the infrastructure and other needs of Pacific Island countries, and regional security issues, among other topics.

This trip and the meetings that Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will engage in will build on a focus on these issues, in particular Sustainable Development Goals that we saw last September in New York at the UN General Assembly, including in President Biden’s remarks to the UN General Assembly and in meetings that we did on the margins, including with Secretary Blinken, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, and others. So, there’s real momentum coming into this set of meetings based on our stepped-up engagement over just the last few weeks and months.

In our meetings with Pacific Island leaders and stakeholders, the Ambassador will emphasize the important role that the PIF, as we call it, the Pacific Islands Forum, plays in enhancing cooperation on these urgent challenges, advancing peace and prosperity in the Pacific. The Ambassador will also discuss with our Pacific Island partners opportunities for collaboration to defend the UN Charter and advance other areas of shared interest and shared determination.

En route to the Cook Islands, the Ambassador will also stop in Hawaii, where she will join Governor Josh Green in co-chairing the inaugural meeting of the Hawaii SDG Youth Council. During this meeting the Ambassador will hear from Hawaii’s indigenous youth on solutions to address the Sustainable Development Goals. She’ll also have an opportunity to check in with the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

So that’s just a sketch of the trip. We’ll obviously have more to say about Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s schedule and all of the work that her delegation will be doing during the upcoming summit and the meetings on the margins. But why don’t I stop there, and look forward to your questions.

OPERATOR: And once again, to queue up for a question, please press 1 then 0 on your phone’s keypad at this time. We have no callers queuing up with questions. We do have a question coming in now from Marc Daalder with Newsroom. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m a reporter in New Zealand. One of the topics expected to be discussed at PIF is the Port Vila call for a fossil fuel-free Pacific. What is the United States’ position on that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just say a couple words about that. I think we’re expected to have a pretty robust discussion of environmental issues and climate crisis across the board, and we know that that’s going to be a topic that comes up in all of our conversations. I know that there will be dedicated topics during the course of the PIF to talk about not only what we’ve been doing so far but what we expect to do, not just in the Pacific Islands but across the board.

We’ve been working hard to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach. And we are eager to partner with the Pacific Islands to raise the global ambition, particularly from other major emitters whose nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement are not yet aligned with the 1.5 degree goal.

We also recognize that the impacts of the climate crisis are already here and being felt, and that’s why the United States is continuing to work with Pacific Island countries and other vulnerable countries around the world to build resilience to extreme weather events and other climate-related impacts, such as sea level rise. There’s a number of investments that we’ll have a chance to talk more about, including on capacity building, on disaster risk reduction, and on building toward an ambitious set of climate meetings that will be happening later in the year.

We’ve already announced over $30 million in investments over the past year to support building capacity to produce and use information to prevent and minimize the impact of climate-related disasters.

So, I think this will be a key focus of the conversations that Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will be having during the course of this week, and we’ll want to hear directly from Pacific Island leaders about some of the ideas they have for how we can deepen and broaden this work together. Over.

OPERATOR: And once again, for additional questions, please press 1-0 at this time. And we have no further callers in queue with questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Well, look, we’ll look forward to working with all of you as you follow along on this trip. And if anything comes up along the way, please feel free to reach out.

MODERATOR: Thank you, [Senior Administration Official]. This concludes today’s call. As a reminder, what you heard on this call can be attributed to a senior administration official. The embargo is now lifted. Thank you all. Appreciate you taking the time to join us today.