Marshalls follows Palau, FSM in initiating Forum withdrawal

The Marshall Islands has launched the process for officially ending its membership in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the country's Foreign Minister said Friday.

"Cabinet approved the withdrawal from the Pacific Islands Forum last Thursday," said Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Casten Nemra.

"(The) next step is for Nitijela (parliament) to endorse the move through a resolution."

The move by the Marshall Islands follows similar actions by Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) over the past week.

The five Micronesian presidents, including those from Kiribati and Nauru, met 8 February and agreed on the withdrawal, and that they saw minimal if any impact by departing the region's primary body.

A resolution in support of the Marshall Islands' withdrawal from the regional organisation is expected to be introduced to Nitijela next week.

"The matter will be discussed early next week (in parliament)," Nemra said.

Former Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr., who stepped down last month after 16 years in the role, issued an ultimatum to forum leaders last September - support the Marshall Islands nominee Ambassador Gerald Zackios, who was endorsed by the four other Micronesia area presidents for the Secretary-General post, or Palau would pull out of the forum.

There was overwhelming condemnation in the Marshall Islands parliament earlier this month following the forum leaders' decision to elect Henry Puna of the Cook Islands as secretary general of the forum, eliminating the Micronesia region's nominee. Both government and opposition members heaped scorn on the forum for this action. But most MPs did not voice support for withdrawing from the forum at that time.

But at a virtual meeting of the five Micronesia area presidents on 8 February, the decision was made for all five countries to withdraw from the forum.

At the end of last week, Palau announced it had already filed the paperwork to formally withdraw from the forum as well as close its embassy in Suva. On 17 February, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) sent a diplomatic note to Fiji announcing the start of the one-year period to withdraw from the forum.

Following Palau and the FSM's lead, the Marshall Islands is moving forward to confirm the decision of the Micronesia area presidents.

FSM President David Panuelo said his country intends to remain a full member of the agencies that work under the forum's umbrella, including the Pacific Community (SPC), Forum Fisheries Agency, and others.

A FSM government working group evaluating withdrawal from the forum concluded that leaving the PIF has "no serious impact" for the FSM, said a statement from the FSM President's Office.

Forum chair Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano joined the Micronesian Presidents' meeting n 8 February and reportedly told the five presidents that the forum is reviewing the selection process and invited the Micronesian leaders to be part of the discussions. FSM President David Panuelo said that while the presidents appreciated Natano's diplomatic outreach, their trust in the forum structure "was fractured".

He added, "It would take a very monumental reform of the (forum) for us to be able to come back to the table to discuss future options."