13 Nov 2023

US 'ready now' to deliver climate funding for the Pacific - ambassador to UN

9:18 am on 13 November 2023
The US representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga

The US representative to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Photo: RNZ / Eleisha Foon

The US representative to the United Nations says the United States is committed to delivering on climate financing for the Pacific.

During a sit-down interview with RNZ Pacific, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has reinforced her commitment to the region.

When pressed over the delays to funding for the Pacific she could not provide a delivery date.

"I am follow through," she said.

Since the Biden administration released the first ever US-Pacific Partnership Strategy in 2022, they have been working with Congress on plans to provide over $8 billion in new funding and programmes for the Pacific Islands.

The US " is still working on the budget, we expect and hope that they will move forward on the president's [Joe Biden's] budget requests in the coming weeks," Thomas-Greenfield said.

Funding looked to be tied up with Congress, but "we are ready now," she said.

"Over the course of the past couple of weeks, the House has been working to elect the speaker, the speaker has now been elected....we expect and hope that they will move forward on the President's budget requests in the coming weeks."

The US government hosted its second summit with Pacific leaders at the White House in September.

Niue Premier Dalton Tagelagi also joined the Cook Islands in signing up for diplomatic ties, during their meeting with President Joe Biden.

Cook Islands, Niue, and Vanuatu will have US embassies from next year. The move is part of the Biden administration's broader strategy to increase US involvement in the Pacific.

Thomas-Greenfield also addressed why Washington had shown more of an interest in the Pacific, with a backdrop of Beijing expanding its footprint in the region.

The US representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga

Photo: RNZ / Eleisha Foon

She countered criticism by Solomon Islands leader Manassah Sogavare for not following through with its commitments, and said the US was not just paying lip service to the Pacific.

The Solomon Islands signed an agreement in September to boost cooperation with China on "law enforcement and security matters".

The Solomon Islands signed a secretive security agreement with Beijing in 2022 that might have allowed Chinese military forces in the South Pacific. However, Sogavare rejected suggestions his government might give Beijing a military foothold in the region.

The nearby island nation of Kiribati also switched official relations to Beijing in 2019.

Thomas-Greenfield said: "We think we have something to offer, we think we can be a good partner. We're not telling countries they have to choose between the US and China, what we're telling countries is that they have a choice. We want to ensure that the partnership we provide gives them a good choice to make."

The United States said it was important to "be guided by Pacific priorities and needs, including the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent and the newly launched Pacific Partnerships for Prosperity."

While attending the Pacific Island's Forum, Thomas-Greenfield met with Nauru's president David Adeong shortly before he abandoned the forum in Rarotonga on a private jet, while Pacific leaders were on their leaders retreat on the island of Aitutaki.

"I'm the first Cabinet person to come since we recognised the Cook Islands. I'm here to engage directly with leaders to answer their questions, to address their concerns, and to ensure that we move forward on delivering the commitments that the president made," she said.

Leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga

Pacific leaders on Aitutaki. Photo: Supplied / Pacific Islands Forum

Israel-Gaza conflict a concern

Meanwhile, the conflict in Gaza has been a key topic in the Pacific region.

The death toll from the Israel-Gaza conflict has surpassed 11,000 people, including more than 4000 children, following the Hamas attack on 7 October.

Israel argued that any ceasefire would give Hamas time to rearm and attack it again, following the massacre of at least 1200 Israeli citizens. More than 220 people were taken hostage.

The US has been heavily criticised for its involvement in funding Israel.

The majority of Pacific states sided with the US and Israel by voting against a United Nationas for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

New Zealand and Solomon Islands were the only Pacific nations to vote for a ceasefire.

Pearl farmer Kora Kora from the island of Maniheke takes groups from the Cook Islands on religious tours of Israel.

He said he supported Israel and its actions on bombing Gaza for "self-defence".

"What about the Israeli hostages still being held by Hamas?" Kora asked.

In Rarotonga, on the steps of the Pacific Island's leaders summit, protests have been taking place calling for world peace and asking Pacific leaders to condemn the Gaza attacks.

Fashion designer and owner of brand TAV Ellena Tavioni has been leading the peaceful protests.

She said people needed to be "well informed" about Palestinians and what they have been subjected to under the Israeli occupation. "This didn't start on October 7."

She pushed back against the religious belief tied to the old testament of the Bible, saying it was "misplaced and that God loves all people - even the people of Gaza and that they deserve to be protected too".

"Everybody needs to put themselves in the position of Gaza. Land means so much to us Polynesians. I can't imagine anyone forcibly removing us from our home land where our ancestors were buried," Tavioni said.

Fijian police banned a pro-Palestine protest this month, amid fears it could lead to further division among its communities.

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said: "We also want to see, when people protest that they are condemning the horrific actions that were taken by Hamas on October 7, they're calling for the return of hostages, and they're calling for respect for humanitarian law and for the laws of war."

In the leadup to COP28, the ambassador said she had a "sense of how we can support your [Pacific] priorities" and would "be working with all of the countries in the region to actually accomplish that".

She acknowledged that Pacific islands were at the forefront of climate change and must be supported.

"We know that climate change is at the top of the agenda."

She said phasing out fossil fuels was something the US wanted to work towards.

"We're not in a position to say it will phase out immediately. But I think eventually we want to see that happen."

The US representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga

Photo: RNZ / Eleisha Foon

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