By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata Coleman Radewagen urged the State Department to promptly share with the U.S. Congress the details of packages contained in the proposed new provisions of the Compacts of Free Association with Palau and the Marshall Islands.
"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," the American Samoa delegate said
The State Department last week announced that it has signed separate memorandums of understanding with Palau and the Marshall Islands but the terms of the proposed new deals are kept under wraps.
The U.S. and the Federated States of Micronesia's negotiating panels have yet to sign an initial agreement as they are still ironing out the creases in the treaty.
"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," Radewagen said.
The economic provisions of the compact are set to expire in October for the FSM and the Marshall Islands, and 2024 for Palau.
"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," Radewagen said.
She said a review of the initial agreements and the subsequent congressional action must be expedited before the expiration of the compact provisions "that sustain our strategic alliance."
"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," said Radewagen, co-chair of the Congressional Pacific Islands Caucus.
Under Washington's initial agreements with Palau and the Marshall Islands, the U.S. will extend the compacts' economic provisions for the next 20 years.
"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," Radewagen said.
She said the MOUs will guide congressional decisions "between now and October."
"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," Radewagen said.
"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," she added.