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Thursday, October 23, 2003



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RONEN ZILBERMAN / RZILBERMAN@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gov. Linda Lingle delivered a speech yesterday during the opening reception at Washington Place for the three-day Pacific Island Conference of Leaders that begins today in Honolulu.



Pacific leaders
to push region’s
value with Bush


Leaders from 22 Pacific island governments plan to stress the potential political and economic significance of their region when they meet with President Bush this afternoon.

President of the United States "The message is that the Pacific's here," said Tongan Prince Ulukala Lavaka Ata. "People forget the Pacific, but it's quite an important part of the world."

The leaders, in Honolulu for a conference focused on security, gathered at Washington Place last night during a welcome reception with Gov. Linda Lingle and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona.

Lingle pledged the formation of closer ties with the governments represented and said the state should work toward becoming a conduit between the Pacific and the world.

"I do want to focus on Hawaii's role as a leader in the Pacific, to really carry out that dream that everyone has," she said.

Guam Gov. Felix Camacho said the three-day conference "is a wonderful opportunity to meet other leaders from not only American territories or those affiliated with the United States, but others in the Pacific.

"It's a rare opportunity also for us leaders in the Pacific to have an opportunity to meet with President Bush."

Other leaders attending the conference were Lt. Gov. Aitofele Sunia of American Samoa, President Joseph Urusemal of the Federated States of Micronesia, President Kessai Note of the Marshall Islands, Palauan President Tommy Remengesau Jr. and Gov. Juan Babauta of the Northern Mariana Islands. Representatives from Fiji, Samoa, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Niue and Papua New Guinea were also present.

Bush's Hawaii visit rounds out his week-long trip through five Asian countries and Australia -- a perfect primer, say the leaders, for a discussion on issues relevant to Pacific island nations.

Bush will briefly drop by the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders during his day in the islands. His father, former President George Bush, attended the same conference at the East-West Center in 1990.

Charles Morrison, the center's president, helped to initiate the Bush invitation.

He said Bush's trip has largely centered up until now on Asian nations, including the problems they face in addressing security needs. The Pacific, he said, "is a different world."

"The scale of things is so different," Morrison said. "They are small countries that need a lot of help because of geography."

That is why upping security in these countries, amid countless obstacles, is this year's conference theme.

For example, in one Pacific island nation, the government is struggling to afford a $2 million fence around its airport, he said. In others, the area that should be secured includes miles of ocean.

M. Young Vivian, the premier of Niue, a small island east of Tonga, agreed that the cost of solving security concerns can be prohibitive.

But he said that if Pacific island nations work together, they could solve a number of security problems.

The Pacific conference was established at the East-West Center more than 20 years ago to assist the region's governments in advancing their development goals.

In addition to Bush, Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander in chief of the Pacific Command, is expected to attend the conference and talk about security concerns in the region.

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