Saturday, August 23, 2008

Aussie PM Silent Game Pays Off

Kevin silent game pays off at Pacific forum

Michael McKenna August 22, 2008

KEVIN Rudd faced one of his biggest tests as the most powerful ratu in the region at yesterday's Pacific Island Forum -- to remain silent.
The former career diplomat had been told to expect "long moments of thoughtful reflection" at the closed leaders' retreat and to resist the temptation to speak up and fill the void.
Diplomacy, Pacific-style, is usually a circuitous, non-confrontational exchange, but the 15 leaders, including elder statesman, Papua New Guinea's Michael Somare, knew the time for small talk had ended over Fiji's military man, Frank Bainimarama. Rudd was the man with the plan.
After years of Australia being accused of megaphone diplomacy, Rudd had to wait his turn as each leader -- seated in a circle of leather chairs, especially brought in from New Zealand -- gave their opinion on how to revive democracy in Fiji.
Over three hours, an unusually robust debate ensued in the small conference room of the Matavi resort, perched high on a cliff of the tiny atoll nation.
Giving new meaning to "vacation diplomacy", the scenic setting moved the 37-year-old forum on to new ground.
For the first time, a tiny clause in the forum's framework was invoked -- at the urging of Rudd -- to threaten Bainimarama, an eleventh-hour no-show, to fulfil his commitment at last year's meeting to hold elections next March or Fiji would be suspended from the regional group.
Leaders such as Somare are worried about setting a precedent of regional inaction to a military coup; others fear the forum's legitimacy is at stake.
While observers speculated about further sanctions, Rudd looked to the lessons in the ousting of Solomon Islands leader Manasseh Sogavare, rolled by his own MPs weeks after snubbing the forum last year.
On Monday, while in Auckland, Rudd aired the idea of a possible suspension of Fiji's membership to the forum with his New Zealand counterpart, Helen Clark. The veteran leader got on board.
Rudd wasn't sure early yesterday that his plan would fly.
At first, the minnow nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu were hesitant. Then Somare began his push in support of Rudd, who has been careful since taking office to show the respect he felt John Howard failed to.
Eventually consensus began to build behind Rudd, Somare and Clark. Then Rudd, ever the diplomat, took over. With notepad at hand, he wrote out the wording of the pointed threat of suspension that was signed off just after midday by the leaders.
Now, only time will tell if the pen is mightier than Bainimarama's sword.

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