US negotiator says Marshall Islands retreated from $2.3 billion deal
US senator raises concerns over delayed completion of Compact deal
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
While Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia have both sealed their new agreements with the United States under the Compacts of Free Association, the Marshall Islands has backed out of the $2.3 billion in economic assistance it has initially agreed to receive, according to the U.S. negotiator.
“The reason they state is because the nuclear issues have not been resolved yet. I’d like to point out two aspects of nuclear issues,” Joseph Yun, the presidential envoy to the compact negotiation said.
The $2.3 billion offered to the Marshall Islands was part of the $7.1 billion Washington has pledged to the freely associated states over the next 20 years.
Following the completion of the negotiation on the renewal of the expiring economic provisions of the compact, the U.S. and Marshall Islands signed a memorandum of agreement on Jan. 12.
“So, it does puzzle me as well why it has become not acceptable,” Yun told Sen. Joe Marchin, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a hearing Thursday.
Yun said the U.S. government’s legal responsibility for nuclear liability has been met.
“And they have agreed to that. We’ve always felt that there were additional needs,” the ambassador said. “Which is why, within the $2.3 billion that we offered, $700 million was set aside to put into the trust fund.”
The $700 million allotment could be used for development, education, environment, and issues of nuclear legacy on the four atolls in the Marshall Islands, Yun said.
Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. used the Marshall Islands as an atom bomb testing ground. During that time, 67 atomic bombs were dropped on the islands, on and around the atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik.
“From the beginning, the (Marshall Islands) government has insisted that they would like to have a bigger role in setting up their priorities, which is why we put that aside for them to decide how they want to apportion, with obviously some oversight from the United States,” Yun said.
Manchin, for his part, is worried over the uncompleted deal with the Marshall Islands, noting that Congress is racing against time.
“This is concerning because Congress faces a daunting deadline to complete our work on the Compacts before the end of the fiscal year,” the committee chair said.
The compacts’ economic provisions for the FSM and the Marshall Islands will expire on Sept. 30 this year, and Sept. 30, 2024 for Palau.
Manchin underscored the importance of renewing the compacts “to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.”
"Congressional consideration of this legislative proposal comes as China is increasingly challenging the United States for regional influence. It is therefore vital to maintain our bilateral political, military and economic relationship with the Freely Associated States under the Compacts,” Manchin said.
To date, Washington has provided at least $800 million in economic assistance to Palau, $2 billion to the Marshall Islands, and $4 billion to Micronesia, Manchin said.
“At the same time, the Compacts have underwritten America’s sea lines of communication throughout the Indo-Pacific while promoting regional security by granting the United States exclusive powers to control military access to the freely associated states,” he added.