SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good evening, everyone. It’s a great pleasure to be here with Prime Minister Brown, and a particular pleasure because of the reason we’re here. When we had the initial summit with our Pacific Island partners back in 2022, President Biden announced his intent to recognize the Cook Islands. And today, with the exchange of letters signed by the President and signed by the prime minister, we have done just that and established diplomatic relations between the United States and the Cook Islands. So this is truly, genuinely, a historic occasion.
It opens a new and I think very exciting chapter in our relationship. It in a sense reinforces what’s already there because the relationship, even in the absence of this recognition, has been long and enduring. But I think this is a way to deepen even more the bonds that join us together. We’re celebrating a shared history. We’re celebrating shared values. We’re celebrating ever deeper people-to-people ties. And I think in this recognition, we also recognize in each other a shared commitment to democracy, a shared commitment to dealing with the existential challenge of our time, which is combating climate change, and a shared commitment to supporting a free and open Indo-Pacific.
When we were with President Biden earlier today, he made a point of relaying a conversation he’d had with a leader of another country, in which he said resolutely that the United States is a Pacific nation and we have millions of our fellow citizens who have Pacific heritage. And of course so much of our focus, looking to the future, is the Indo-Pacific region.
But we’re also inspired by the history that we share, and we have a long history with the Cook Islands – a long history for security, for prosperity in the region, and of course this goes back to World War II and some of the history that the President recounted today. We’re working very closely together on dealing with other huge challenges of our time, including combating illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing. We know the impact that that’s having on the livelihoods of so many people.
And of course one of the things we’re very gratified by, and was another point of emphasis today, is the participation of Cook Islanders in so many of our exchange programs – in the IVLP program, in the Young Pacific Leaders program, in the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs program. And of course we have American citizens who very much enjoy the hospitality of the Cook Islands, who live there, who work there, who are contributing to the deep connections between our peoples. So our countries are already intrinsically linked. But diplomatic relations, formal diplomatic relations, will make us even closer.
Finally, just to say a few words more broadly about today, we had the second historic summit between the United States and our Pacific Island partners. I think this is testament to the fact that we are strong partners and we have relationships that are built on mutual respect and shared interests. Prime Minister, we deeply appreciate your leadership of the Pacific Island Forum as chair, and one of the elements of our policy, of our approach, is elevating the partnership with the PIF. We have, of course, our first U.S. envoy, Ambassador Frankie Reed.
So we will work closely with you. We’ll work closely with the PIF, with the Pacific Community, to bolster Pacific regionalism. I think one of the great strengths of the Pacific Island Forum is the strength that comes from countries joining forces, working together, dealing in a common way with common challenges. We’re working, meanwhile, to try to align the Pacific strategy that we have with the PIF 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific, and I think we already see in those strategies tremendous alignment and we’ll continue to refine that as we move forward.
We’re very much looking forward to the 52nd PIF Leaders Summit to support Pacific voices, Pacific choices, the Pacific way. And we’re committed to partnering on all of the critical issues that we’re joined together with the Cook Islands in dealing with as we speak. I’m very gratified that we’ve had today and in the previous summit pretty much a whole-of-government engagement with our Pacific Island partners, all of the different agencies that are working together to strengthen the work that we’re doing, to make us as effective as possible in responding to the needs of Pacific Islanders.
But in that, we are very, very gratified for this relationship and gratified by the fact that this is a day for the history books.
PRIME MINISTER BROWN: It is.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And we’re so grateful, Prime Minister, to have you here, and it’s now my pleasure to turn the microphone over to you.
PRIME MINISTER BROWN: Thank you. (Applause.) Well, Secretary Blinken, to my delegation that’s here, it’s a privilege and an honor to be standing here today to celebrate the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two nations. This momentous occasion represents a culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and the unwavering commitment of our people to forge our own sovereign path on the global stage.
Our journey to statehood – a journey characterized by resilience and determination – has brought us to this pivotal moment. From the moment we first asserted our self-governance, we have consistently demonstrated our ability to manage our affairs with wisdom and grace. For the Cook Islands, this day has been a long time coming. And as we celebrate this milestone, we do so with a deep sense of pride in our national identity.
Today the U.S. becomes the Cook Islands’ 61st diplomatic partner, and this will undoubtedly pave the way for others to follow suit. My country has been steadily expanding our international and multilateral presence in pursuit of a more resilient nation. This will open doors to exciting opportunities and foster greater cooperation and partnerships on a global scale. This is not just a symbolic gesture. For the Cook Islands today, it is a critical step towards our development aspirations.
Looking ahead, we envision a future of robust cooperation and friendship with the United States. We will work together to address regional and global challenges, promote sustainable development, and create opportunities for our people. We will work together in areas of mutual interest, including climate action, ocean stewardship, critical minerals, tourism, education, and human rights. We have already cooperated with the U.S. in many of these areas over the years, but now we do so as equal and sovereign partners.
In conclusion, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those who have worked tirelessly to make this day a reality. To you and your team, Secretary Blinken, (inaudible). To my team, well done. This achievement brings to every Cook Islander, past and present, who has contributed to our nation’s progress. So today we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, adding to their foundation, so that those still to come can build an even brighter future for our nation.
May this historic moment mark the beginning of a bright and prosperous chapter in the Cook Islands-U.S. relationship. (In foreign language.) Thank you. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER BROWN: Yes, sir.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: All right. The joint statement that is being signed by the Secretary and the prime minister reads as follows: “On this occasion, we celebrate the shared history, common values, and people-to-people ties between our two nations. We affirm our joint commitment to deepen our cooperation as equal and sovereign partners, guided by respect, genuine engagement, and partnership. Going forward, we intend to cooperate with each other on matters of shared priority, including climate change, ocean stewardship, marine resources, critical minerals, renewable energy, education, sustainable development, democracy, human rights, and good governance. We acknowledge the importance of Pacific regional institutions, including the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific Community, and we look forward to working together with the Cook Islands to further bolster connections within the Pacific region.
“The establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Cook Islands marks an historic achievement that will further reinforce our friendship and deepen our bonds for many years to come. Through this joint statement, we acknowledge this achievement. We are connected by our history, our Pacific Ocean, and our people, and we look forward to our continued and strengthened partnership.
Secretary Antony J. Blinken, the United States of America
Prime Minister Mark Brown, Cook Islands”
(The joint statement was signed.)
PRIME MINISTER BROWN: All right. Thanks, folks.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you so much.