Australia and New Zealand plan to dialogue with Micronesia to encourage countries to remain in the Pacific Islands Forum.

The two nations are hopeful that the rift that caused Palau, Nauru, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and the Marshall Islands to withdraw from the Pacific Islands Forum will be mended. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden told reporters in New Zealand that the decision of the five Micronesia nations is both “ saddening and regrettable.” 

“We were very saddened by that decision, of course, those leaders have given a years lead time to that being enacted and through my exchanges with Minister Mahuta [NZ’s Minister of Foreign Affairs], I know that we are going to do what we can to try and encourage the leaders to stay.

“The strength of the Pacific Islands Forum is the wide representation and of course we want to see that remain,” she said.

The five nations which belong to the sub-region of Micronesia, in a communique issued on Tuesday, said it is leaving the forum following the election of Henry Puna as the new Secretary-General of the forum.

Puna won by one vote against Micronesia’s nominee, diplomat Gerald Zackios.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne told ABC News that she hoped that  Micronesia would stay despite the outcome of the voting.

“I absolutely appreciate the disappointment that representatives of governments across Micronesia have with that outcome, but I do very much hope that they decide to remain engaged with the forum.”

President Surangel Whipps  Jr. has earlier criticized Australia and New Zealand for the role they had in the voting but he also said the decision to leave was not easy. 

He said that while it was his first time to attend the forum, but he has sensed that Australia and New Zealand are focusing more on the South Pacific.

He noted it was his understanding that Australia was staying out of the voting.

Whipps said while the process of leaving the forum would take a year,  he is unsure that there is a “way forward” for the regional group to keep Micronesia,  especially Palau when “trust has been broken.” 

One way he thinks the rift can be mended is for the leaders to recognize that it was Zackios’s turn to lead the forum. 

Nauru President Lionel  Aingimea said the forum should make reforms on the selection of its leader.

“We (Micronesia) don’t want to see this fraction. We want to stay united [in this] Blue Ocean. Unfortunately, half of the Blue Ocean is owned by Micronesia, but seems nobody wants to take that into account,” President Aingimea said in a statement.

Meanwhile, in a statement on Wednesday, the Kiribati government said the outcome of this selection was “disappointing to Micronesia.

 “As part of this formal withdrawal process, the Government of Kiribati will immediately undertake due consultations with respect to its own internal legal and procedural requirements.

Ultimately, the decision to withdraw from the Pacific Islands Forum rests with the Government of Kiribati,’ the statement added. 

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