By BARNABAS ORERE PONDROS
UNITED States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, one of the most powerful women on the planet, is expected to arrive in Papua New Guinea next Thursday and is “excited about the visit”.
The diplomat’s high profile visit is part of a whirlwind tour of the Pacific which also includes New Zealand and Australia after a brief stop in Hawaii.
High on the agenda on her visit to PNG will be “environmental protection and women’s empowerment”.
US Embassy chief of mission Paul Berg confirmed that the trip, announced by the US State department on Wednesday night, was “definitely on”.
“This is going to be an exciting visit, great for both PNG and the US,” Mr Berg said.
He said the US diplomat was eager to set foot on PNG and hold bilateral talks.
The US Embassy did not release any specifics of her visit but public affairs officer Kimberly Strollock said Mrs Clinton’s schedule in PNG was not finalised but information would be disclosed “as soon as it is available”.
While the embassy remains tightlipped on the high profile visit, US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, in a statement said the US diplomat would be in PNG on Jan 14.
Mrs Clinton will deliver a policy speech focused on Asia-Pacific multilateral engagement in Honolulu, Hawaii on Jan 12, before crossing the Pacific to PNG where she will hold bilateral meetings and meet with local civil society leaders.
Government sources said the visit was likely to feature talks with Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, however this could not be confirmed with the PM’s office.
Mrs Clinton follows in the footprints of her husband and former US president Bill Clinton who visited PNG in December 2006, to support the fight against HIV/AIDS.
During that visit, the former president was bestowed the Grand Companion of the Order of Logohu, the highest honors under the national honours system.
But for Mrs Clinton, her visit is aimed at further enhancing bilateral relations between the super power and PNG, and comes only a month after US giant, Exxon Mobil, agreed to proceed with the biggest development project ever undertaken in Papua New Guinea – the PNG LNG.
Since being appointed by President Barrack Obama, Mrs Clinton has made outreach to civil society and the advancement of women’s rights a key priority in her travels to developing nations.
Her visit is the second visit by a US secretary of state.
Secretary Madeline Albright visited Port Moresby in 1998.
From PNG, she will visit Auckland, New Zealand, on Jan 15, where she will meet with prime minister John Key and senior officials and later progress to Canberra and Melbourne, Australia, on Jan 17, to discuss among other issues, key global and regional security challenges.