By Lawrence Fong and Gorethy Kenneth in Port Moresby
United States President Joe Biden yesterday apologised to Prime Minister James Marape and the people of Papua New Guinea for abandoning his planned trip to Port Moresby, and instead is sending Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Details of Blinken’s travel to PNG are still being finalised and will be announced soon, but he will be here on Monday, Marape said.
He said Blinken would be involved in bilateral dialogue with the PNG government and leaders of the Pacific Island countries.
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Marape, while addressing journalists yesterday afternoon, had to excuse himself twice during the hour-long address, to take calls from the White House and from Biden.
He said Biden was apologetic but had given his commitment to visit PNG and the region in the near future.
Marape also talked about the benefits of the US-PNG Defence Cooperation Agreement, downplaying fears that the agreement was unconstitutional and would sacrifice PNG’s sovereignty.
“Sorry I didn’t mean to be rude, but this call that came in this time, you know the US President is a very important man, he is not easily accessible, he’s got stiff protocols to access him and I was privileged on behalf of our people that he placed a call directly through my cell phone,” Marape said in apology to the local and international journalists in attendance.
“We spoke and I just stepped out and got his call.
“He [President Biden] conveyed his sincerest apology that he cannot make it into our country.
“I did place an invitation to him that the next earliest available time, please come and visit us here, but he has confirmed that he has directed Secretary of State Antony Blinken to arrive here on Monday to meet with us for a specific bilateral with Papua New Guinea as well as a regional meeting with the Pacific Island leaders.
“He did invite again the Pacific Island leaders for a continuation of a progressive continuation of the meeting that we initially held last September in Washington.
“And so those were the reasons why I stepped out.”
Marape also said he had invited Biden to visit PNG whenever he could, and Biden had agreed.
He said that when Biden came, he would be able to sign the Ship Riders Agreement with PNG.
He said the agreement had been approved, and was ready for signing.
But he did not give a firm answer on the signing of other, more controversial agreement, the US-PNG Defence Cooperation Agreement.
He said the agreement was done within the confines of PNG laws, and assured the people that it would be of benefit to the country.
Rabuka apologises to PNG
Meanwhile, Governor-General Sir Bob Dadae received Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka at Government House in Port Moresby this afternoon.
Rabuka arrived in the country today and paid a courtesy call on the Governor-General.
By way of introduction, the Prime Minister and his delegation performed a traditional Fijian reconciliation ceremony complete with the presentation of a whale tooth, a significant Fijian traditional gift, to the Governor-General.
The traditional ceremony that Prime Minister Rabuka performed sought forgiveness and reconciliation on behalf of the people of Fiji for the closure of the Fiji High Commission in PNG in 2020.
Lawrence Fong and Gorethy Kenneth are PNG Post-Courier reporters. Republished with permission.