Barely a month in office, the Fijian Prime Minister and chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Sitiveni Rabuka plans to visit Kiribati and meet with the President there to repair the damage that led to the island nation’s withdrawal from the regional grouping.

His office confirmed today that the Prime Minister will travel to Tarawa on Friday, 20 January to ‘find a way to bring Kiribati back to the Forum family and nurture regional solidarity.’

It will be his first international visit since becoming Prime Minister on 25 December – after the three-party coalition of Peoples Alliance (PA), National Federation Party (NFP) and Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) narrowly edged the former ruling government of Voreqe Bainimarama.

Prime Minister Rabuka said he will use the best of his ability to reunite the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

“In doing so, I intend to travel to Kiribati to meet Kiribati’s President, His Excellency Taneti Maamau for bilateral discussions, Friday 20 January 2023, said his office.

He wants to bridge the impasse with Kiribati before handing over the chairmanship of the Pacific Islands Forum to the Cook Islands, he told journalists in Suva last week.

This is a key regional issue he hoped to address when asked of his priority areas under his Foreign Affairs portfolio. “The reconsolidation of the region,” PM Rabuka said.

He admits the issue was sensitive and Fiji will “have to tread cautiously”.

“Fiji is the chair at the moment and that will be handed over to the Cooks in the next meeting. Before that I hope to repair the damage, some may feel Fiji was responsible for.”

Kiribati’s withdrawal from the PIF in July last year and emphatic refusal to sign the Suva Agreement was regarded as a huge blow to the former PM and PIF chair Voreqe Bainimarama.

The Suva agreement, which included a commitment to a Micronesian candidate being the PIF’s next secretary general, the creation of a new PIF office in a Micronesian country and moving the position of Pacific Ocean commissioner to Micronesia.