Remarks With Pacific Island Journalists

Kurt M. Campbell
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Patrick M. Walsh USAID Assistant Administrator Nisha Biswal, and Office of the Secretary of Defense South/Southeast Asia Principal Director Brigadier General Simcock
Via Teleconference
June 23, 2011

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Okay. That’s great. Thank you. And first of all, let me just thank you all for joining us. My name is Kurt Campbell. I’m the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific, and I’m joined by my friends and colleagues from USAID, from the Pentagon, and from Hawaii U.S. Forces. And I just – it would be hard for us to underscore the excitement that we feel as we embark upon this really, truly unprecedented trip. We are leaving as a joint interagency team representing the three prongs of American commitment – our diplomacy, our defense, and our development efforts. We are leaving Hawaii on Sunday, and we are going to – just to give you a sense – to Kiribati, to Samoa, to Tonga, the Solomons, to Port Moresby, to PNG, to Palau, to the FSM, and the RMI. And in each one of these stops, we are looking to underscore our strong, strategic, our political, our military, our historical, and indeed our moral commitment to the Asian Pacific region.

Too often when we say Asia-Pacific, it is the second word, Pacific, that gets short shrift, and this mission is an attempt to underscore our enduring deep commitments to the region across a whole host of issues: the welfare of the people that live there, a commitment to education, to people-to-people exchanges, to the pressing challenges of climate change, and indeed the enduring defense and security challenges of unlawful fishing and other challenges that plague the region as a whole. I just want to say that we are working in close conjunction with many friends in the Asia-Pacific region, and we have been in close consultation with New Zealand and Australia and Japan, South Korea, and the multilateral development banks and the international financial institutions that also have an interest in developments in the Pacific. And I look forward on Saturday to consultations with one of my colleagues in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Vice Foreign Minister Cui, and one of the key issues that we want to underscore is our commitment to work together to ensure that we take steps that improve the lives of the people that live in the Pacific.

So I just want to tell you all how much we’re looking forward to this trip, out team at the State Department and at the Defense Department and in Hawaii have put an enormous amount of effort into these stops, into this overall trip so that we will be able to get maximum impact for our time in this critical region. Let me ask you, if I may, please, just quickly to ask Admiral Walsh and Nisha and perhaps General Simcock if you’d like to just say a couple of quick words before we turn it over to our colleagues for questions.

ADMIRAL WALSH: Kurt, its Pat Walsh from Hawaii. We’re looking forward to the trip because it is an opportunity for us to underscore our commitment, our engagement, and the value of foreign presence of the United States Navy Pacific Fleet. We have been through here with many of our exercise and many of our partnership and cooperative relationships whether it’s part of Pacific Partnership 11, which has come through Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, or Micronesia, these our efforts that are underway that really try to address the quality of life issues in specific detail, whether it’s engineering projects, medical projects, dental projects or in support of veterinary clinics for those in need.

And this is an opportunity to work a whole-of-government approach, which is something that I think has proven very successful. We witnessed this on the ground in Japan when we brought USAID, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense together. It was a remarkable team that, I think, had great impact for the quality of lives of the people that we interacted with and our allies and friends. So we’re looking forward to the trip, and thank you for the opportunity to speak.

MS. BISWAL: Thank you, and this is Nisha Biswal, and I also want to just echo the words of Assistant Secretary Campbell and Admiral Walsh. USAID has long been committed to the economic development and sustainable development of the Pacific Islands. We have had programs there in the past several years focusing on fisheries, and we’re about deepen and broaden our engagement, and so I look forward to this trip as an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with both the government leaders and the civil societies in how we can engage more broadly in the Pacific.

BG SIMCOCK: And thank you, Secretary Campbell. This is Brigadier General Simcock. I would just echo everything that’s been said. The only thing I would add that this region has been of strategic importance to our country for a very long time and will continue to do so into the future. And I think this trip is a great opportunity for all those involved to get that message out and look these important partners of the United States eye to eye and explain to them just how very important their region is to our country. Thank you.

MR. RATNEY: Okay. Thank you. Operator, we could go to the first question.

OPERATOR: Okay. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1, record your name at the prompt so that your question may be introduced. Again, please press *1 to ask a question. One moment. And our first question is from Bill Jaynes. Your line is now open.

QUESTION: Hi. It’s Bill Jaynes. I’m from The Kaselehlie Press in the Federated States of Micronesia. And this question is for Assistant Secretary Campbell. I read an interesting quote from a speech given by Secretary Clinton in early March, and she says in her speech in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, quote, “The Pacific in the west” – “The Pacific is the West’s to lose, and we’ve been doing a good job of it. It is up to us to say no more.” I’m just wondering, does this rift that’s occurring or will occur very shortly, does this have to do with a new realization of a U.S. policy in the Pacific or this is a reiteration of an old policy? And are things going to be changing in terms of U.S.-Pacific relationships?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well, thank you very much, and I think it’s an important question. Let me just simply say that the United States has never left the Pacific. We’ve been engaged actively there for decades, and we will continue to do so as General Simcock has indicated going forward. It is also the case that we welcome the involvement and engagement of other nations in the Pacific, particularly when we can work together in joint endeavors that involve transparency, and that at their core are about improving the lives of the people of the Pacific. And so that’s one of the reasons why we’re very much looking forward to discussions with our Chinese friends in Hawaii over the course of the next several days to underscore our goals in the Pacific and our desire to find arenas in which we can work together.

And so I think our overall determination here is that the United States does want to step up its game generally in the Asia-Pacific region given that we all, I think, recognize that much of the history of the 21st century will be written out – written in this key arena. And we believe that it is important that the United States as a resident power and a deeply engaged economic player demonstrate on a regular basis our commitment to play a strong and enduring role – not just in Asia, but as I said earlier, in the Pacific as well.

MR. RATNEY: Okay. Operator, we can take the next question.

OPERATOR: And the next question is from Nanise Fifita. Your line is now open.

QUESTION: Thank you. And my question is directed to Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell. Malo e leilei and my name is Nanise Fifita from Radio and Television Tonga. My question is: What are some of the issues that you are hoping to discuss with the Tongan Government officials when you do visit Nuku’alofa, and who do you plan to speak to? And please what are the dates for your visit to Tonga?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Look, let me see if I can get you the exact dates. I think we’ll be able to provide that as we go. Just a second here.

QUESTION: That’s fine.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Let's see. It looks like we will be there on June 28. And let me just say that there are a number of areas that we're looking forward to discussing with the officials in Tonga. As you know, we are fully committed to cooperation in primary areas of security and also sustainable development in Tonga, and we will want to carry congratulations to the Kingdom on last year's first democratically elected majority parliament.

And in addition, I think the Kingdom's very innovative - I think it's called the energy roadmap - is a very impressive indication of a commitment to critical issues associated with the problems of energy sustainability in the islands. We also will thank the government and the Kingdom in particular for the participation in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan. And quite honestly -- and I think Admiral Walsh will and General Simcock will second this -- everything we hear from our colleagues who are serving in uniform there is that the Royal Tongan Marines have served with great distinction, and we're extraordinarily grateful for that overall.

I think there are a couple of specific programs that we'll want to discuss. We are looking at the pilot program for qualified Tongans with respect to visas, and we're also looking in specific technology issues associated with the mail-in visa renewal program that, shall we say, reuses electronic fingerprints that are already on file. So overall, our commitment is to build on what's been accomplished to date, to thank the Tongan people for their work with us, and to see what areas - we want to hear from them also on what particular areas that we might be able to work on going forward. And I think we've been very, very grateful to hear that we will be having an audience with the King George V, and all of us are putting our best efforts into our attire. Ms. Biswal has picked out a lovely hat and I have my ascot, so we're excited about that very much.

MR. RATNEY: Thank you. We'll go to the next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question is from Rimon. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Hello, I'm Mr. Rimon M. Rimon. I'm the press liaison officer from the President's Office in Kiribati. My next – the first question I’d like to ask you is directed to Secretary Campbell. You mentioned that the trip to the Pacific this time, you’ll be visiting Kiribati on June 27, I think, this upcoming Monday. You mentioned that you’ll be meeting with our President and discussing on climate change and economic development prospects. Big countries like you, Australia, and New Zealand are realizing Kiribati’s problem on climate change, and this is reflected through the different programs already in place. Does the United States have any similar programs in the pipeline for Kiribati?

MS. BISWAL: I’d like to answer that, if I may. This is Nisha Biswal, and we are – USAID is going to be announcing some additional regional programs in the Pacific focused on climate change both in terms of working with regional institutions like SPREP and SPC, working on food security with respect to adapting to and resilience against climate change in the food security for the islands. We’re going to also be looking at adaptation programs and mitigation programs. So we will be both engaging in a more substantive way on climate change and then also looking at expanding other activities over time.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: And our next question is from Giff Johnson. Please state your – or your affiliation.

QUESTION: This Giff Johnson. I’m the editor of The Marshall Islands Journal in Majuro. A question for Mr. Campbell. The U.S. Congress congressional leaders have recently indicated that they’re interested in changes in certain provisions of the Compact of Free Association with the Freely Associated States and with Palau’s newly negotiated compact coming into the U.S. Senate soon for approval, what hurdles do you anticipate it will face in the Senate for approval?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well, look. Let me just simply say – and Nisha or others may have something to add to this – first of all, we have been, as you know, for several months deeply engaged in negotiations, and we were grateful to conclude those negotiations earlier this year. That compact is under consideration with the U.S. Senate right now. That consideration, as you know, comes at a very delicate time when a number of very large issues associated with our overall budget priorities, questions associated with debt limits are also being debated and discussed.

We have made clear to the government our determination to work to see this enacted and we are in close consultation with all sides up on Capitol Hill. I think one of the things that we’ll want to explore when we’re out in the region is what are possible next steps that we might take in order to see this into force. I just want to underscore that we recognize our historical and moral commitments in this regard and have made our position quite clear to the key players up on Capitol Hill.

MR. RATNEY: Okay. Next question, please.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Let’s have a question, if we can please, on the security dimensions as well. So I think it’s very important for what we are doing, and I’d be very grateful to make sure that we have questions for all involved here.

OPERATOR: Okay. I would just like to send a reminder, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1, and our next question is from Keni Lesa. Your line is now open. And please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Hi. Keni Lesa from The Samoa Observer. I have two questions. The first one is – well, thank you very much for making this opportunity for us journalists to speak with you. And my first question is: Why a big delegation? And the second one – why a big delegation? Why – how are these eight countries actually selected from the Pacific? And the second one – please, if you’re able to also elaborate on the visit to Samoa, please. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I’ll say a few things, and then perhaps Admiral Walsh or Nisha might want to jump in. First of all, it’s – the composition of the delegation is meant to reflect the comprehensive approach that the U.S. Government takes with respect to the Pacific. And what I underscored at the outset is the so-called 3 Ds – diplomacy, defense, development. And so we want to engage across each of these arenas in a comprehensive way, and that’s why we put this team together. We are all deeply committed to the Pacific. We’ve worked closely together on this agenda, and I must say it was a difficult task to choose these – first selection of countries. And there is a deep recognition that this is not the last – the first and last trip; it’s the first of other trips. And so our desire is to make this a more regular feature of our diplomacy, and we look forward to other engagements in the future going forward.

On Samoa particularly, I mean, we are going to have a number of meetings on the island, and we’ll have a chance to meet with the prime minister and key Samoan officials. Our USAID team will be unveiling plans for the future, as Nisha has already discussed, and we will want to talk about a variety of issues, including climate change, questions related to the management of the tuna situation, which affects many islands and the status of the treaty, and a range of other potential opportunities for increased contacts between Samoa and the United States, which ties are already quite strong. I spoke this afternoon to Congressman Faleomavaega. He had some specific ideas and suggestions for us, which we’re going to be happy to take up as we go forward.

MR. RATNEY: Admiral Walsh, was there something you’d like to add?

ADM WALSH: Well, from a couple of different perspectives, we’ve been through Samoa in most recently in 2009 with Pacific Partnership, and we had specific work and contributions that we made in the engineering and medical fields.

But the second piece to the Pacific Fleet interest in Samoa is really related to some of the challenges – security challenges that countries in the region are facing when it comes to illegal and unregulated fishing, the protection of EEZs, and developing an awareness of the sort of illegal and unregulated activity that’s taking place, and then developing then the means of taking action based upon that. So that requires an understanding of the maritime environment, that requires relationships now that bridge maybe across what we would consider nontraditional lines, where these relationships are in positions of support to law enforcement agencies, and in positions where we can alter the transit routes of our ships so that we can provide the eyes and ears to local law enforcement Coast Guard activities so that they can then determine whether or not they want to act upon that.

We find that the illegal unregulated activity is having great impact in the region, and this is a small example of actions that we can take that are executable now based on developments and relationships that we have previously forged through other contributions and exercises that we’ve done in the area. So we’ll be attentive to that in the course of our discussions in Samoa. Thank you.

MS. BISWAL: And I think – this is Nisha – and I think it also just dovetails nicely with this 3-Ds approach to how we’re looking at support for the Pacific Islands because the work that USAID has been doing in the Pacific to build sustainable fisheries management capabilities to strengthen local institutions, I think, supports then the maritime security aspect that Admiral Walsh talked about. And that’s the kind of collaborative approach that I think this trip speaks to as we look at the challenges facing the Pacific countries from a holistic approach.

MR. RATNEY: Okay. Great. We’ll go to the next question, please.

OPERATOR: And the next question is from Simon Santow. Your line is now open, and please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Yes. It’s Simon Santow from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Sydney. My question is to the Assistant Secretary of State. Assistant Secretary of State, Fiji obviously has been an issue of great concern to the Commonwealth, particularly Australia and New Zealand. You have signaled a different approach to dealing with General Bainimarama. Where are you at with that approach? And do you have any further plans to see him or to engage with him in a greater way?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: First of all, thank you very much for the question. Let me – but if you’d mind, I’d like to just take a slight exception to it. I don’t think we have expressed a different approach to Fiji, and in fact, I think the hallmark of our approach has been a very deep dialogue with both Australia and New Zealand. And I think you will have seen over the course of the last year or so we have really stepped up our relationship with New Zealand and maintained a very high level of engagement – consistent engagement with our friends in Canberra as well.

One of the subjects that we are talking about is, of course, developments in the Pacific. And one of the key issues in the Pacific, clearly, is the status of the situation in Fiji. We have stated quite clearly, and on numerous occasions, that we look to take the lead and consult closely – we look to New Zealand and Australia to take the lead in deliberations concerning Fiji, and we want to consult closely and be closely coordinated in our approaches going forward.

We are concerned by what we’ve seen. We’ve maintained sanctions on Fiji, and we would very like very much to see a civilian government return to power and a transparent, inclusive, open-ended process that would include all elements of Fijian society. We intend to continue these consultations over the course of the next several weeks with our friends in the Pacific, and one of the things that we want to touch upon in every one of our stops is to hear clearly from Pacific Island nations and leaders, their perspectives about what’s transpiring in Fiji. I must tell you, quietly almost all of the countries have expressed some growing unease, and we will be looking to hear from many of them about possible pathways going forward.

MR. RATNEY: Okay. We’ll take the next question, please.

OPERATOR: The next question is from Sia Adams. Your line is now open, and please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is Sia Adams from Tonga. I’m the deputy editor of the newspaper, Times of Tonga. My question is for Admiral Walsh. I would like to comment to you in the partnership program that really helped Tonga in 2009 and this year also. So I want to know what is the future of the Pacific Partnership program to Tonga and also the Pacific.

And my other question is that – with regards to development, and I think that in Tonga, the Peace Corps and aids that are dispensed. What is the future of the Peace Corps in Tonga? We have been told that you’re going to downgrade the Peace Corps in Tonga, but there is – we look at the other side that you’re trying to set a footprint in the Pacific. So if you could answer those two questions briefly.

ADMIRAL WALSH: Hi. It’s Pat Walsh, and thank you for the questions. What I would recommend is if you could allow me to address the part one piece to it, and either Nisha or Kurt, you might be in a better position to address the Peace Corps sort of element and the development in Tonga.

Thank you for the comments about Pacific Partnership in Tonga in 2009 and 2011. We were in Tonga earlier this year for almost two weeks, and it was, from our perspective, a very successful effort in collaborative work that was done among the nongovernmental organizations, various services and countries represented all in the Pacific Partnership package, that as I mentioned before, focused on engineering, medical, dental, as well as veterinary projects.

The future of that is one that we’re very much committed to the enduring value of the Pacific Partnership exercise series, and we also recognize that in the environment that Kurt described earlier, that it’s very important to hear from you in terms of the impact that you see. And that would help us evaluate how often you want to see us. I mean, we’re very much aware and conscious of the role that we play every other year when we come through with a hospital ship. And the years that we don’t come through with a hospital ship, we come through with a gray hull combatant.

What’s interesting from our perspective is that the level of interest from the region doesn’t make the distinction between the hospital ship or the combatant, that the number of people who are interested in the services provided and the relationship that we forge continues to reinforce the point from the region that they really do appreciate this service. So if I could ask from the Tonga perspective if you could make the impact and the value of this known to us, this will help us in terms of continued scheduling of Tonga in the future. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: And if I could just add one other thing if I could, one of the things that we’re most proud of us we have a longstanding – the Peace Corps has a longstanding program in Tonga, and it’s got about 40 volunteers, and it’s one of the highest in terms of morale and sort of excitements. It has – it’s one of the choice destinations for Peace Corps volunteers, and we’re very proud of that program, and we see it as a model for other places as well. We’ll be looking forward to discussing that and, frankly, celebrating it on our visit.

MR. RATNEY: Okay. And we have time for one more question.

OPERATOR: Okay. And our next question is from Linny Folau. Your line is now open, and please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Hello. It’s Linny Folau from the Matangitonga Online, Nuku’alofa, Tonga. I just want to pose a question to Mr. Campbell. I think you mentioned that this is the first time of this kind of visit to the region. So I’m just wondering why at this particular point in time.

And the other – second question I wanted to ask is: The Pacific is relatively peaceful appearing to the rest of the world. Is there a looming threat for peace and security in the region?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Thank you. Look, as I tried to state, and think Admiral Walsh and Nisha has and General Simcock, we have been actively engaged in the region for decades, and we will continue to be engaged going forward. Frankly, this was an opportunity to reach out to the Pacific, to do a little bit more. Secretary Clinton has held meetings with the Pacific Island leaders at the United Nations over the course of the last two years. We’ve been active participants in the Pacific Island Forum, and during these meetings we heard on several occasions we need to get more officials out and visiting. And so I must honestly thank – Admiral Walsh has been extraordinarily engaged in the Pacific. He encouraged this effort, and we are thrilled with the ability to put it together and enthusiastic about it. And so we’d hoped that the general response would be terrific, and let’s see more.

I would also say that we see the Pacific as a region of peace. And the collaboration there and the opportunities are enormous, and we don’t see any looming particular threats. In fact, most of the threats that we face are transnational ones – climate change, challenges to health and to the well-being of people, challenges of low birth rates, the challenge that’s region-wide in terms of trafficking in peoples. These are all things that we want to address and work collaboratively with the peoples of the Pacific going forward. So our hope is to see this as an exciting new innovation that just signals nothing more than the fact that we want to do more with the Asia-Pacific region with a note on the last part of that phrase – the Pacific.

ADMIRAL WALSH: Hey, Kurt, can I add to that?


ADMIRAL WALSH: When people are in need, the last thing they need to hear about are barriers and administrative – administratively burdensome stovepipes. Our experience in Japan was one where you – when you bring in the whole-of-government approach and you work the issue real time, not only do you deepen relationships, but you can address the needs of people in a timely manner. And so the idea of trying to address development without diplomacy, without defense being in the middle of that seems to me just sub-optimizing the effort and prolonging some of the pain that people are in.

So what we find when it comes to illegal fishing is that’s just one aspect of the problem. The environmental peace that you described, the health peace that you described, as well as some of the other barriers to quality of life improvements, I think, are best represented by this trip that we are trying to, number one, be attentive to, to listen for, and then let us now take what we learn from this and operationalize it so that we can have a machine that’s finely tuned and running to support people.

MR. RATNEY: Okay. Do any of our participants have any closing words? Okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I just want to thank everyone for joining us, and I think its difficult hours in some places, and we’re just very grateful that you could join us. And we’re also very pleased to see the interest in the trip. We’d ask you to follow us. We’ll try to be having news releases and reports during the trip on each of the stops. We hope to have particular – there’s an unfortunate American word – deliverables as we go, and we will try to do everything possible to highlight in a transparent way what we’re seeking to accomplish, and more to follow, and thank you all very, very much.

MR. RATNEY: Thank you, sir. Thanks to all our participants in Washington and Hawaii and to all the journalists that joined us from the Pacific. We appreciate it.

OPERATOR: And that concludes today’s conference. Thank you for participating. You may disconnect at this time.

MR. RATNEY: Thank you.



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