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The Marshall Islands has taken US Secretary of State John Kerry to task for missing next week's Pacific Islands Forum, saying he should have taken the chance to highlight climate change issues.
As Kerry seeks to build diplomatic momentum for a response to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons, Washington has opted to send Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to the Pacific summit in the Marshalls' capital Majuro.
Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Phillip H. Muller said he was disappointed at the decision, particularly as Kerry's predecessor Hillary Clinton attended last year's forum in the Cook Islands.
"We were expecting him to come and provide some input and provide his presence in the region. We understand that there are other urgent matters that he has to attend to," Muller told AFP from Majuro.
"We would have been happy if he sent his deputy or someone under his command. Right now, we're being told that the Secretary of the Interior (Jewell) is coming, which for us is really not good enough."
Clinton's visit was the first time a top US diplomat had attended the forum and it was seen as symbolic of Washington's "pivot" towards the Asia-Pacific after decades concentrating efforts elsewhere.
Muller said Kerry's attendance this year would have highlighted the so-called Majuro Declaration, which the forum's 15 member states plan to sign at the summit in a bid to kick-start stalled efforts to address climate change.
But he said the summit would proceed as planned and added: "His absence will in no way diminish the final outcome of the forum."
The forum consists mainly of island nations, many of which are low-lying and threatened by climate change, along with regional powers Australia and New Zealand.
The United States and other nations such as China, France, Japan and India attend as dialogue partners.