By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
With the clock ticking on the expiring provisions of the Compacts of Free Association, President Joe Biden will send a veteran diplomat to the negotiating table to resume the stalled talks between the U.S. and freely associated states.
Ambassador Joseph Yun is the new special presidential envoy for compact negotiations, who will tackle the "critical nature of these complex negotiations" with the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced today.
Yun has nine months to finalize the compact negotiations with the FSM and Marshall Islands, whose economic provisions are set to end next year. For Palau, the provisions will expire in 2024.
The three Pacific nations, collectively known as "freely associated states," are affiliated with the U.S. through the compacts that provide them economic assistance and visa-free entry to any U.S. jurisdiction in exchange for full international defense authority and responsibilities.
"We are currently engaged in negotiating amendments to certain provisions of the Compacts of Free Association with the FAS, and completing the negotiations is a priority for this administration," Blinken said.
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"The compacts reflect the close relationships between the United States and the FAS and are a critical source of regional security, stability, and prosperity," he added.
Blinken said the negotiations will strengthen Washington's "enduring partnerships with our close Pacific island partners and ensure a free and open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region."
"Ambassador Yun has more than 33 years of diplomatic experience," Blinken said.
Yun served as the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy and as the United States ambassador to Malaysia and as a senior advisor to the Asia program at the U.S. Institute of Peace. As former U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, he is recognized as one of the nation’s leading experts on relations with North Korea, as well as on broader U.S.-East Asian policy
In the U.S. House of Representatives, the natural resources committee said renewing the compacts' provisions is "a national security imperative" and critical to countering China's threats in the region.
“We urge Ambassador Yun to move quickly to address the underlying personnel and policy issues, including U.S. positions on the legacy of nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands during the Cold War. We hope he will work with Congress and this subcommittee as we conduct oversight to provide accountability for the American people," Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), committee chair and Katie Porter (D-Calif), chair of investigations subcommittee, said in a joint statement.
They added that the U.S. has "a moral obligation to further address the legacy of U.S. nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands."
The nuclear testing has been one of the sticky points at the negotiating table with Marshall Islands, where the U.S. conducted nuclear weapons tests from 1946 to 1958.
"The U.S. government withheld information related to the nuclear testing program during the negotiation of the original Compact of Free Association, and provided funds for legal claims related to nuclear testing that ultimately covered less than 10 percent of damages awarded by a special tribunal," Grijalva and Porter said.
"Although the U.S. government has apologized for above-ground nuclear testing in the southwestern United States through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, there has been no such apology for the legacy of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands," they added.
On Oct. 21, 2021, Porter's subcommittee invited the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of State to testify at a hearing on Runit Dome and the U.S. nuclear legacy in the Marshall Islands.
"The State Department declined to testify, tried to force DOI to withdraw its testimony, and blocked DOE from producing documents promised to the Subcommittee during the hearing. The committee’s Jan. 25 document request to the State Department remains unanswered," the committee said in a statement.