US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has offered her
condolences to Australia and New Zealand for the recent deaths of
their soldiers in Afghanistan.
Each country lost five soldiers in August, with two New Zealand soldiers shot dead by an Afghan insurgent, two weeks before three other New Zealand soldiers were killed when their Humvee hit a roadside bomb.
Australia lost five soldiers on Wednesday in two separate incidents, with three shot dead by a gunman and two others killed in a helicopter crash.
Clinton offered her country's condolences and appreciation to both countries.
"Both New Zealand and Australia have played a cruicial role in the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) mission. Their soldiers and civilians are highly regarded," she said.
She added that New Zealand's contribution in Afghanistan was "far beyond what one would ordinarily expect from a country the size of New Zealand".
"I'm gratified that despite the challenges we've all had, including the losses that we've suffered at the hands of insurgents and turncoats, we are all resolved to see this mission through as the commitments we've made would suggest.
"Every time this happens, soldiers and civilians alike, we are reminded of the incredible sacrifice that our nations are making, but we should also remind ourselves of the progress we have made since we went into this together."
Her comments followed talks with New Zealand's Prime Minister
John Key at Ngatipa, the New Zealand Residence, in Rarotonga
Local fish and New Zealand meat, crayfish and cheeses were on the two leaders' menus as they dined and discussed America's role in the Pacific.
Clinton says the United States would like to follow New Zealand's lead and work in partnership with China over aid projects in the Pacific.
"We want to see China act in a fair and transparent way. We want to see them play a positive role in navigation and maritime security issues.
"We want to see them contribute to sustainable development for the people of the Pacific," Clinton said at a press conference today.
Earlier Clinton spoke at the Pacific Islands Forum's post-forum dialogue in Rarotonga, saying that the Obama administration has made a "major push" to increase the United States' engagement with the Pacific region.
"The 21st century will be America's Pacific century. The United States knows that this region is strategically and economically vital, and becoming more so. We, too, of course, are a Pacific nation," she said.
As it vies with China to be the better superpower friend to Pacific nations, the US will give millions of dollars more in aid and development funding.
"Our countries are bound by shared interests and, more importantly, shared values, a shared history and shared goals for our future.
"The United States is already invested in the Pacific; indeed, we are increasing our investments, and we will be here with you for the long haul."
Clinton signalled several aid announcements, including $US32 million (NZ$39.8 million) in new program as part of the Asia Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative she launched in July.
"These new programs will address the priorities that you have identified. One of these is sustainable economic development that protects biodiversity," she said.
"One will help coastal communities to adapt to the effects of climate change. The other will help to develop this region's renewable energy resources."
She is also expected to make an announcement on expanding the US's security partnerships with the Pacific, including blowing up unexploded ordinance left from past conflicts.
Clinton is expected to launch the Rarotonga Partnership for the Advancement of Pacific Island Women, in collaboration with Australia and New Zealand, "to identify rising women leaders across the region, and connect them with networks of support" later today.
Clinton touched down in Rarotonga last night and was greeted with a traditional Pacific welcome.
The US Secretary of State had an informal meeting with forum leaders over breakfast at Trader Jacks earlier today.
"I am so happy to be here and meet with everybody and talk about the issues that they are concerned about here that we want to be a good partner on," she said outside the restaurant.
"And what a place to do - it is fabulous. I'm afraid half of my team will not want to go on to the next place."
Clinton then posed for photos with American nuns who called out "God bless America".
The visit by the US Secretary of State has shown Pacific leaders their forum is growing in influence.
The timing of Clinton's arrival in Rarotonga coincided with a press conference by China's Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying.