SIGN UP for our newsletter ✉️ :

Get the latest stories delivered straight to you

Micronesian nations claim healed Pacific Islands Forum

Micronesia has declared the Pacific unified once more as the Pacific Islands Forum returns to full membership after a nasty split.

Leaders from the 18-member Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) gathered in Nadi on Friday to cement a deal that returns Kiribati to the regional body.

Kiribati President Taneti Maamau - who was greeted by PIF secretary general Henry Puna with a bear hug when he arrived at the retreat - said he was delighted to "be getting back together as a family".

"We are a part of a big family. We have to keep together, to keep the solidarity of the Pacific and move forward," he said.

"In unity, we surely should succeed."

Kiribati rocked the forum last year, walking away furious at backtracking from a previous agreement to rotate the forum's leadership.

Since then, a heavy diplomatic effort - spearheaded by Canberra and Suva - has patched the rift.

At lunchtime at the retreat, Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka and Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo declared the power-sharing "Suva Agreement" had been accepted.

"It's all been signed," Mr Panuelo said.

"The forum will never be fractured again."

New positions and offices will be opened in the northern Pacific nations as part of the new power-sharing agreement.

Nauru will provide the next PIF secretary general, with Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr confirming it will nominate former president Baron Waqa.

Mr Waqa hosted the PIF leaders summit as chair in 2018, making headlines for calling a Chinese envoy "insolent" and a "bully" for speaking out of turn.

Australia has been a major supporter of the restoration of the forum.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong, standing in for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the retreat, has travelled to the Pacific nine times in as many months, visiting 16 nations.

She preceded her trip to Fiji with a stop in Kiribati, announcing a new strategic agreement and then taking Mr Maamau to the summit.

Mr Rabuka has also thrown his support behind the restoration, travelling to Kiribati on an Australian defence plane last month to formally apologise to Mr Maamau with a traditional Fijian ceremony seeking forgiveness.

The gesture was hugely appreciated in Kiribati and lauded as the breakthrough by Senator Wong, who offered her "deep appreciation" to Mr Rabuka in Nadi.

The summit marked Mr Rabuka's final act as PIF chair.

Cook Islands and its leader, Prime Minister Mark Brown, will take over leadership of the forum for 2023 ahead of the next leaders' summit, expected in October.

Micronesian nations claim United States President Joe Biden has signalled interest in visiting the Pacific this year and could possibly attend the summit.