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Solomon Islands says won’t sign White House summit declaration

Ships are docked offshore in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, Nov 24, 2018.

SYDNEY/WASHINGTON – The Solomon Islands has told Pacific nations invited to a White House meeting with US President Joe Biden it won't sign the summit declaration, according to a note seen by Reuters.

Leaders from the Pacific Island Forum bloc have been invited to the two-day White House summit starting Wednesday, at which the Biden administration seeks to increase influence in the strategically important South Pacific.

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The Solomon Islands wrote to the Pacific Islands Forum and asked it to tell the other members it wouldn't sign a proposed Declaration on the US-Pacific Partnership, to be discussed at the summit on Sept 29, and needed more time for its parliament to consider the matter, according to the note dated Sunday.

A Solomons note seen by Reuters read that the declaration was "yet to enjoy consensus"

Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo said on Tuesday in Washington that countries had been working on the summit declaration — "a vision statement" — that would cover five thematic areas, including human-centered development, tackling climate change, geopolitics and security of the Pacific region, commerce, and industry and trade ties.

The Solomons note said the declaration was "yet to enjoy consensus".

"Solomons does state it won't be able to sign the declaration but it doesn't call on others to follow suit," said Anna Powles, a Pacific security expert at New Zealand's Massey University who has seen the note.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare's office did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council declined to comment.

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Speaking at an event in Washington hosted by Georgetown University, Panuelo said the Pacific island nations had come to realize the importance of "strength in numbers" and called for superpowers to talk to them about the issues most important for the region.

Efforts to reach a final text on the declaration ran into problems this week during a call between the US State Department and Pacific islands ambassadors, when the US side demanded removal of language agreed to by the island countries that Washington address the Marshall Islands' nuclear issue, three sources familiar with the call, including a diplomat from a Pacific island state, told Reuters.