From left, Asterio Takesy, chair of the Joint Committee on Compact Review & Planning; Sarah Jorgenson, deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of the Interior; Suzanne Lawrence, director for the Office of Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands in the U.S. Department of State; FSM President David W. Panuelo. Photo courtesy of FSM Information Service
Palikir, Pohnpei — The United States is the “first and foremost ally” of the Federated States of Micronesia, President David W. Panuelo said on Oct. 31 as he received a U.S. delegation during a meeting that set the preparations of the upcoming talks on the Compact of Free Association.
The U.S. team included officials from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Interior, who were visiting the FSM to gather information prior to the negotiations on the expiring provisions of the amended COFA.
The U.S. delegation was led by Suzanne Lawrence, director for the Office of Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands in the U.S. Department of State.
Panuelo said during his earlier meeting with David Hale, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of State, “we were told about this team. So welcome. We’re going to be listening to you, what you have to say. But I believe that it is important that, number one, when you leave, we have some framework of negotiation parameters; and number two is the timeframe [by which to commence the Compact negotiations].”
Panuelo described the close and enduring relationship between the FSM and the U.S., noting again that the U.S. is the nation’s first and foremost ally.
The president noted his appreciation for the close attention the nation has received from the U.S. in his administration so far, and from all levels, including multiple visits to Washington, D.C. on behalf of the FSM to visit the U.S. government, including the historic visit with U.S. President Donald J. Trump in May, and the visits from the Robert L. Wilkie, secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Michael “Mike” Pompeo, secretary of the U.S. Department of State, to the FSM in July and August 2019 respectively.
“We appreciate that so much has happened, and we’re grateful because we’re ready to begin talking parameters [on the Compact negotiations] going forward,” Panuelo said. “But what I want to say, and I’ll say it again, is that I hope that our talks can reflect the maturity of our two countries at this time, and in this stage of our relationship, and that we can see what bottlenecks might have been there that we try to clean out some of those things.”
The president described his vision of seeing, among other things, infrastructure funding from the Compact freed up so that it can be used in a manner that is both highly effective and highly visible.
Lawrence was quick to note her team’s appreciation for hearing what the FSM president had to say with regard to the upcoming negotiations, and also with regards to his proactive stance on meeting with U.S. officials. The director advised that it was her hope that, upon the completion of the interagency team’s travels, there will be momentum in the U.S. government to move the negotiation process forward.
“Thank you for having us,” Director Lawrence said. “And for starting us off on the right foot. As [Secretary Pompeo] said—we want to get this right, so I think taking the time to understand what exactly is helpful is more important than trying to rush into something.”
Panuelo agreed with Lawrence’s sentiments, emphasizing again that the U.S. is the nation’s closest ally and that, by extension, the negotiations on the Compact should have a warm and cordial atmosphere.
Robert A. Riley III, U.S. ambassador to the FSM, noted that he’s trying to get Lawrence to join the annual Joint Committee Meeting between the FSM and the U.S., to be held sometime between January or February of 2020.
Panuelo invited Lawrence to return as often as possible, noting that the more aware the U.S. interagency team is of the FSM not only an intellectual level, but on a visceral level too (e.g. by visiting Nan Madol, or diving in Chuuk Lagoon), that the Compact negotiations will necessarily proceed more smoothly.