American Samoa Delegate Uifa’atali Amata Coleman Radewagen (R) expressed her pleasure that United States negotiators last week reached an initial understanding with the governments of the republics of Palau and the Marshall Islands on general financial terms to extend the Compacts of Free Association for the next 20 years.
“Importantly,” said the Delegate, who is co-chairman of the Congressional Pacific Islands Caucus, “these MOUs are not final commitments, but instead are milestones marking forward movement, in order to sustain momentum in negotiations that were on diplomatic life-support a year ago. Along with my colleagues in Congress, there will be many questions I will have about what to expect as terms are worked out leading to final agreements.”
Noting that the MOUs will provide Congress with a window into the understandings reached that will inform the work Congress will need to do between now and October when the financial provisions of the Compacts are set to expire, Amata went on to say that, “if the Administration expects the Compact renewal package to be approved by that time, I would urge the State Department to provide the MOUs to the leadership of the committees with jurisdiction over Compact affairs without further delay.”
The conclusion of these preliminary agreements comes at a time when the Delegate met with the presidents and key leaders of the three Freely Associated States in connection with her travel to the region for the inauguration of new Northern Marianas Governor Arnold I. Palacios (I), representing the House Natural Resources Committee at the request of incoming Chairman Bruce Westerman. With a large ex-patriate Marshallese community in an Arkansas congressional district adjacent to his, he brings a familiarity with Micronesia to his new position.
Following the Palacios inauguration, where she had a chance to visit with the Republic of Palau President Surangel Whipps, Jr., and Guam Governor Lou Leon Guerrero (D), the Delegate returned to the US mainland on United Airlines “Island Hopper” in order to visit with Chuuk Governor Alexander Narruhn, FSM President David Panuelo, and RMI President David Kabua, along with other senior government leaders on their home islands. “It was important for me to gain a perspective from these leaders that I could take back to Washington,” said Amata, who last week also was named co-chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus. “I welcomed the chance to visit with FAS Heads of State and their negotiators, who provided updates on the Compacts, and was pleased to learn of their satisfaction with Ambassador Joseph Yun.”
“The reports I was hearing about recent progress in the Compact negotiations were most encouraging and consistent with the steady improvement we have been monitoring in these crucially strategic negotiations,” she said. The Delegate added: “There has been a long overdue trend in more productive negotiations since all parties moved off previous positions and began to resolve issues that had impeded agreement on core issues over the past three years.”
“As I had hoped,” continued the Samoan lawmaker, “recent consultations produced general understandings of the goals and intentions of the parties regarding the range of funding levels which, if approved by Congress and ratified by the FAS national legislatures, would sustain the success of the free association alliance. I welcome the Los Angeles MOUs as a sign of the progress that can be made.”
“The FSM is completing its internal deliberations on the same issues addressed in the MOUs with RMI and Palau, and I was pleased to receive a detailed briefing on outstanding issues from FSM Chief Negotiator Leo Falcam, Jr. during my stop in Pohnpei. I understand the US and FSM are making steady progress as well, so Congress can work on all three Compact renewal agreements in the critical months ahead. The more open communication there is about Compact renewal between the Administration and Congress now, the more productive the oversight hearing can be on the President’s budget and legislative proposals to implement the Compact renewal agreements that need to be expedited in order to take effect before expiration of current core Compact provisions that sustain our strategic alliance at the end of this fiscal year.”
Consistent with the Department of Interior’s shared role with the Department of State in managing Compact funding as well as serving as the US government’s policy focal point for US flag territories, Amata was happy that Interior Assistant Secretary Carmen Cantor was present for the signing ceremony with Yun, RMI Foreign Minister and Chief Negotiator Kitlang Kabua and Palau Foreign Minister and Chief Negotiator Kaleb Udui.