US, Marshalls resume Compact talks
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The United States and the Marshall Islands returned to the table to review progress in negotations on the expiring provisions of the Compact of Free Association and to discuss the expansion of their diplomatic ties.
Ned Price, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman met in Washington on Friday with the Marshall Islands' negotating team led by Foreign Minister Kitlang Kabua.
"The deputy secretary and the foreign minister discussed ways to expand and grow the U.S.-Marshall Islands bilateral relationship," Price said in a statement.
"They discussed progress on the Compact negotiations, the impact of Covid-19 on the Marshallese people and diaspora, and promoting economic growth and stability in the Pacific island region," he added.
Washington has been stepping up its engagement with the Pacific islands in a bid to outpace China's growing influence in the region.
"The deputy secretary underscored the importance of successfully concluding the compact negotiations and the strength of united Pacific voices and leadership through international fora such as the Pacific Islands Forum," Price said.
The negotiating panels earlier agreed to target signing a memorandum of understanding before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
In addition to extending U.S. funding support, Marshall Islands leaders are seeking U.S. support that addresses certain issues at the Kwajalein missile range, to resolve its nuclear weapons test legacy that has left islands uninhabitable due to high radiation levels and continues to cause health problems for many islanders, and to bring climate adaptation and mitigation measures into the agreement.