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Cook Islands prepare for major visit

Hillary Clinton is expected to visit the tiny nation.
Hillary Clinton is expected to visit the tiny nation.(AFP/Getty Images)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The tiny Cook Islands are proving almost too small for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The South Pacific island chain, home to just 10,000 people, is buzzing as it prepares for the expected visit of the US secretary of state, the biggest dignitary to stop by since Queen Elizabeth II nearly four decades ago.

Hosting such a high-profile guest and her entourage, however, is posing problems for a government that owns just three small sport utility vehicles and is scrambling to borrow cars from residents to create a proper motorcade.

Clinton is expected to attend the Pacific Islands Forum, an annual meeting of Pacific leaders that begins Aug. 27 on the main island of Rarotonga.

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Sending such a high-level delegation would emphasize Washington's Pacific pivot, a policy shift in which it's placing increased emphasis on trade, humanitarian aid, and military presence in the region as it seeks to counterbalance the rise of many Pacific and Asian nations including China.

The US embassy in Wellington on Friday declined to confirm whether Clinton would be part of its delegation, but Cook Island officials are preparing as if she is coming.

Cook government spokesman Derek Fox said the islands are expecting about 500 people from 57 countries.