Arnold & Porter re-ups with Micronesia
It is not just the Marshall Islands facing difficulties when trying to engage the United States in terms of renegotiating its compact of free association—Micronesia is also struggling. Politico is reporting the island nation is re-signing for services from international law firm Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, as it runs up against the expiration date for its own COFA agreement.
Arnold & Porter has represented Micronesia since 2016, but the firm expects its services to ramp up ahead of the 2023 expiration of various provisions in the so-called COFA agreement — under which the U.S. agrees to provide financial assistance, defense and work opportunities for citizens in exchange for a military presence in a region of increasing strategic importance to both the U.S. and China.
Negotiations on expiring portions of the compact began during the Trump administration, but were delayed by the pandemic. The stalled talks led 10 members of Congress — most of whom hail from Pacific states or territories — to write to national security adviser Jake Sullivan late last year urging the Biden administration to finalize pacts with Micronesia and two other countries with such agreements, the Marshall Islands and Palau, POLITICO reported. The lawmakers called it “distressing that these negotiations do not appear to be a priority,” citing the lack of formal meetings since Biden became president and calling for the designation of a lead negotiator on the National Security Council.
Considering the rising tensions between the US and China, it is befuddling to see the federal government not prioritize these compacts, although it might also signal a shift in strategy that focuses instead on the unincorporated territories in the Pacific, with which the US can do as it pleases without any negotiations. This also should concern those who propose this status alternative in territories like Puerto Rico, as it shows the frail and temporary nature of these agreemeents.