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New Vanuatu PM to 'revisit' security pact with Australia - ABC

Prime Minister Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu of Vanuatu addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York

By Alasdair Pal

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Vanuatu's new prime minister, Sato Kilman, will "revisit" a security pact signed with Australia, he said in an interview with Australian state broadcaster ABC on Tuesday, a day after he came to power in a vote by lawmakers.

The pact was a major reason for the ouster of former leader Ishmael Kalsakau, who lost a no-confidence motion in parliament and was then defeated by Kilman in a secret ballot on Monday.

Opposition lawmakers had said the security pact with Australia compromised Vanuatu's neutral status and could jeopardise development assistance from China, its biggest external creditor.

On Tuesday, Kilman said the agreement, signed by the two countries in December, would be unlikely to be ratified by parliament in its current state.

"I think for us, at this point in time, I am not sure whether it is in the best interests of Vanuatu or not, only because we have not been consulted," Kilman said in an interview with the ABC in Port Vila.

"My view would be to revisit the agreement with both sides, the Australians, and the Vanuatu government, and see if there's any sticking points and then address that," he said, according to a transcript of the interview posted on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Vanuatu is one of the Pacific island countries at the centre of competition for influence in the region between the United States and China.

The United States and its allies, including Australia, are seeking to discourage Pacific countries from establishing security ties with China, after Beijing signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands.

Vanuatu's agreement with Australia includes closer cooperation on defence, border security, policing and aviation safety.

Australia respected Vanuatu's "sovereign decision-making processes" and looked forward to discussions with the new government over its issues with the security pact, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

"Australia and Vanuatu share a deep security partnership... We will continue to work with Vanuatu to deliver mutual benefits and ensure our shared security."

A now five-time prime minister, Kilman pledged closer cooperation with China in previous stints as leader.

The ousted Kalsakau had sought to widen Vanuatu's international ties after winning a general election in November.

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal in SydneyEditing by Peter Graff)