By Kirsty Needham
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Pacific island leaders will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a high-level U.S. delegation in Papua New Guinea on Monday, Fijian officials said, without U.S. President Joe Biden who cancelled his attendance at the talks.
Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka confirmed the talks would go ahead after Biden pulled out of the visit to Papua New Guinea due to debt ceiling negotiations in Washington, a move seen by some as a blow to U.S. diplomacy in the region.
Biden had been expected to meet with 18 leaders from the region's main bloc, the Pacific Islands Forum, and sign a defence cooperation agreement with PNG on Monday.
PNG Prime Minister James Marape is expected to announce details of the defence pact with the United States on Thursday, his office told Reuters.
Fiji said Pacific leaders would hold discussions with Modi on regional cooperation. They would also meet later on Monday with a U.S. delegation for talks on "areas of cooperation and challenges critical to the region and the U.S."
"The meeting demonstrates the U.S. and Pacific’s deep historical and people-to-people ties," Rabuka's office said in a statement, adding climate change, protecting maritime resources and economic growth were priorities.
The chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum, Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown, said the regional meeting had originally been organised between the Pacific countries and India, and his plans to travel to PNG were unchanged.
Brown told Reuters he welcomed "increased engagement by the larger countries in the Pacific as an opportunity to discuss and articulate Pacific challenges and opportunities at leader level".
Analysts said the cancellation of the Biden visit - the first by a sitting United States president to an independent Pacific islands country - could damage U.S. credibility amid competition for influence with China in the strategically located region.
The PNG Post Courier wrote in an editorial on Thursday: "The Chinese are at least happy for now".
Biden will arrange another summit of Pacific island leaders this year after the disappointment caused by his cancellation of the PNG visit, his national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Stephen Coates)