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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 30) – "It was a failure - we came back without any promises," says prime minister Jim Marurai of the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders (PICL) held in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.

Marurai says the objective of the meeting was to get the United States more interested in development in the Pacific.

Twenty leaders from Pacific island governments attended the three-day conference organised by the Honolulu-based East-West Center. Issues like economic development, trade, aid, and climate change were discussed.

Marurai says apart from the northern Pacific, the leader's consensus was that they were going home empty handed.

He says the lack of any clear commitments on the part of the US was the most disappointing aspect of the meeting.

US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice attended the meeting and assured the leaders that America values its historic ties with the Pacific and will work on expanding its engagement with the island countries.

However, by the end of the conference the leaders were not impressed, according to Marurai.

"Their financial commitment is small in the region. We want them to be similar to China," he says.

China's government has, in recent years, given aid and soft loans to Pacific countries.

Marurai says there is no direct US aid to the Cooks and he would like to see this change.

He says the leaders were encouraged, however, by their talks with American Samoa representative to the US congress Eni Falemavaega.

"He encouraged the state department to host the conference, together with the governor of Hawaii," he says.

This was the first time in its 26 years that the PICL convened in Washington. The three yearly meeting is usually hosted by Hawaii.

Marurai says the leaders are not giving up on establishing a closer engagement with the US.

He has already invited US ambassador to New Zealand William P McCormick to visit the Cooks, through talks with the deputy ambassador in Wellington

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