Pacific leaders are still talking tough on Fiji, but there are signs their stance is softening following discussions at the Pacific Islands Forum.
Leaders from the forum's 15 member countries - including Prime Minister John Key and Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Affairs Richard Marles - wrapped up talks at a retreat in Aitutaki in the Cook Islands with Fiji's outsider status and its progress in recent trilateral talks a main discussion point.
In a communique issued to media, the leaders noted progress in Fiji to register voters and establish a constitutional commission, along with its assurances there will be freedom of speech and of the media when it holds promised elections in 2014.
Forum chairman and Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna told media Pacific countries are taking their lead on Fiji from Australia and New Zealand, which have refused to relax their hardline stance on Fiji remaining outside the fold until it returns to democracy.
However, both countries are resuming diplomatic relations with Fiji.
The Pacific section of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (APC) group has decided Fiji should again be allowed to participate in its processes, despite its suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum.
Puna says talks will be held in Papua New Guinea in the next few months, "with a view to addressing and finalising this very important issue: Fiji's re-engagement with the region".
Individual Pacific nations were also taking steps to re-engage with Fiji, and the Cook Islands last week sent a ministerial representative there to hold talks, Puna said.
"We're sending a very clear signal to Fiji that we're encouraging what they're doing to return to democracy, and at the same time, that we are willing to engage with them outside of the forum," he told media.
However, leaders were adamant talk about Fiji would not overshadow the rest of the forum, with New Zealand announcing a $NZ10 million boost for fisheries management a day after Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a $A320 million Pacific gender equality initiative.
Gillard left the forum on Wednesday following the news five Australian soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan, leaving Marles to represent her at the forum.
The leaders returned to Rarotonga on Thursday evening, ahead of the arrival of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will attend the post-forum dialogue on Friday (local time).
Chinese representatives will also attend those talks and are expected to make a major announcement alongside New Zealand, regarding the redirection of aid to the Pacific to ensure it's going where it's most needed.