Date: 10-24-2003

Security was focus but many issues discussed


HONOLULU (Oct. 24) -- Pacific island leaders and East-West Center officials said Thursday's "warm meeting" between President George Bush and leaders of Pacific island nations greatly strengthened the relationship between them.


The meeting at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hawaii Hotel lasted for almost an hour. Each of the delegates from 13 Pacific island nations had an opportunity to speak to Bush. Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, who played a critical role in arranging the meeting, introduced Bush.


"This meeting did more for U.S.-Pacific island relations than what we've tried to do for the last 10 years," said Sitiveni Halapua, director of the East-West Center's Pacific Islands Development Program, which hosted the meeting.


The 7th Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders started Wednesday and ends today. The conference theme is "Enhancing Unity and Dignity: Fighting for a Common Security." Security was the main topic discussed with the president, who told leaders the United States would share intelligence with the nations to help them meet their own security needs.


The conference chair, Prince 'Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, prime minister of Tonga, said leaders also talked about the environment, coral reefs, the rising sea level, economic security and education for young Pacific islanders. Leaders will release a communique today covering issues discussed with Bush.


"Big countries need friends just as much as small countries do," said the prime minister, who started the meeting with a prayer recited in Tongan -- an act that "seemed to put the president in a good mood." He called the meeting "warm."


Charles E. Morrison, president of the East-West Center, said Bush stressed that he went to the meeting to listen to the leaders' ideas and concerns. Morrison said it's difficult for Pacific island nations to get attention from the highest levels of U.S. leadership. The last meeting between a U.S. president and Pacific island leaders occurred in 1990 with then President George Bush Sr. That meeting was also hosted by the East-West Center.


"This was really a statement by a U.S. president about his interest in the region," Morrison said. "He wanted to know what the United States can do better."


For more information, contact Karen Knudsen at 808-944-7195 or knudsenk@EastWestCenter.org



This is an East-West Wire, copyright East-West Center