Updated: Feb 16
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Department of State officials have repeatedly reassured leaders of the freely associated states that the completion of negotiations on the expiring provisions of the Compacts of Free Association is a priority for the Biden administration.
But Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo expects more than lip service.
“Any law or group of laws, taken in isolation, run the risk of amounting to just words on paper, no matter how noble their intent," Panuelo said in a statement after meeting with Department of State Secretary Antony Blinken on Feb. 12. "Those laws must be backed by both tangible and intangible things, and the actions of people who believe in them and enforce them."
The economic provisions of the FSM and Marshall Islands individual compacts with the U.S. expire in 2023, and 2024 for Palau.
"It is for this reason, as well as the general prosperity of our people, that the Federated States of Micronesia seeks the timely conclusion on the negotiations of our Compact of Free Association, and with the aim that our enduring partnership be so much the envy of other Indo-Pacific countries that they, too, will purposefully seek to strengthen their relations with the people and government of the United States of America," Panuelo said.
Blinken met with Pacific island leaders during his Fiji trips as part of the United States' increased engagement in the Pacific islands region.
During a press briefing last week, Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said negotiations are ongoing regarding future assistance for FSM, Palau and the Marshal Islands.
"We remain actively engaged in doing so, and I’m confident that will remain the case going forward," Kritenbrink said. "Those negotiations I can assure you are a top priority for the Biden-Harris administration."
Kritenbrink said under the Compacts, the United States has "the solemn responsibility for the security and defense in and relating to the three freely associated states. As you know, we provide significant levels of assistance under the compacts to the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau."
During Blinken’s brief stop in American Samoa at the earlier part of his visit, Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata, American Samoa's representative to the U.S. Congress, asked the federal official to expedite the COFA negotiations.
“I know other members of the Congressional Pacific Islands Caucus and I are encouraged that the leaders of the three freely associated states are anxious to renew their long-term partnership with the United States, which we fully support,” Amata said in a letter to Blinken.
“Please know that we applaud your important visit to the region and urge swift completion of the negotiations to renew the compacts as quickly as possible so they can be taken up by Congress."
She said the Pacific caucus is inclined to ask Blinken for a briefing on his "observations and discussions" upon his return from the region "so we can be prepared to receive your legislative proposal for Compact extension.”