Pacific leaders urge US to clean up nuclear mess
Pacific leaders preparing to greet US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Washington Thursday to clean-up the mess left by its nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands. A meeting of the 15-nation Pacific Island Forum (PIF) in the Cook Islands issued a communique saying the United States, which tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshalls from 1946-1958, had a "special responsibility" on the issue.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012
The communique, endorsed by the forum's leaders, said radioactive contaminants were still present in the Marshalls and Washington should "live up to its full obligations" to remove them and compensate affected populations. "(There is) a special responsibility by the United States of America towards the people of the Marshall Islands, who have been and continue to be, adversely affected as a direct result of nuclear weapons tests," it said.
Clinton arrives in the Cook Islands later Thursday and PIF leaders will have a chance to voice their concerns to her first-hand on Friday, when she meets them in the capital Avarua. She will be the most senior US official to ever visit the summit, in a move seen as sending a pointed message to China that Washington wants to re-engage in the South Pacific, where Beijing's influence has grown in recent years.
The PIF leaders also welcomed moves to restore democracy in Fiji, which was suspended from the grouping in 2009 in the wake of a military coup three years earlier. But New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said that they decided against lifting the suspension until they were confident the military regime would not renege on a pledge to hold elections in 2014, as it did in 2009.
"One of the reasons not to reinstate is because of serious questions such as what happens to the military and whether they are sent back to the barracks," he told reporters. The communique also called for action on climate change, which threatens many of the low-lying island states, and marine conservation.
Host nation the Cook Islands announced the creation of the world's largest marine park, a vast swathe of ocean almost twice the size of France, at the summit's opening ceremony on Tuesday. The PIF leaders also expressed condolences to Australia over the loss of five troops killed this week in Afghanistan, the Australian military's deadliest day since Vietnam.
The deaths forced Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to cut short her trip to the summit and return to Canberra. They agreed that next year's forum will be held in the Marshall Islands, which is set to place more pressure on the United States over its nuclear legacy.