ANI Photo | US “disappointed” by Solomon Islands PM’s absence from Pacific Islands Leaders Summit at White House

The United States said it is “disappointed” by the absence of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare from a US-Pacific Islands Forum Summit meeting at the White House on September 25 aimed at improving Washington’s relations with the region, ABC News reported. 
Members of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) gathered at the White House, where US President Joe Biden urged leaders to “recommit to each other”. He said, “Because with the past as our proof, we’re stronger and the world is safer when we stand together,” ABC News reported. 
The US is working to strengthen its presence in the Pacific Islands after publicly accepting that it had not paid attention to the area while China expanded its influence. However, in a blow to US’ diplomatic efforts, Manasseh Sogavare refused to visit Washington after travelling to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
“I think it’d be fair to say that the United States is disappointed,” a senior administration official told reporters on a background briefing, ABC News reported. “We’re disappointed that he has chosen not to come to this very special PIF Summit between the United States and the Pacific Island nations.” 
Speaking to ABC News, a Solomon Islands government official said that Sogavare needed to attend to “domestic issues” in Honiara and that the invitation from the White House came after parliamentary business had been scheduled. 
The ties between Solomon Islands and China has caused concern in US and Australia, particularly after the two nations signed a security pact in 2022. Sogavare attended last year’s summit in Washington. However, he initially resisted signing a joint declaration being issued between the US and Pacific Island leaders.
In response to question on whether China had motivated increased engagement with the Pacific Islands, the Biden administration official appeared to agree that it had, according to ABC News report. 
They said, “No question that its [China’s] assertiveness and influence, including in this region, has been a factor that requires us to sustain our strategic focus,” ABC News reported. 
They further said, “But what we’re really focused on doing is showing our Pacific Island friends that the United States, working with like-minded partners, can provide viable alternatives that will work for Pacific Island nations.”
During the Pacific Islands Summit, the White House announced that it had formally begun recognising Cook Islands and Niue as “sovereign and independent” states, meaning diplomatic relations will begin with both.
Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said, “These milestones celebrate areas of change, and demonstrate that with unshakeable resolve and leadership, remarkable achievements are possible,” according to ABC News report.
He urged the US to “actively engage” at the highest level. He stressed that “engagements cannot be restricted to annual summits. 
US promised nearly USD 200 million for new projects and activities in the Pacific, including undersea cables to improve internet connectivity in the region.

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