By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The freely associated states are emerging as the United States' key security partners in the Indo-Pacific region, yet the U.S. State Department does not follow proper diplomatic protocols in negotiating a significant treaty with these Pacific nations, Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata said.
The congresswoman from American Samoa lambasted the State Department for assigning "desk officers" and "contract employees" to renegotiate the Compact of Free Association with FAS leaders.
“The freely associated states are important – militarily, strategically and economically – in the Pacific region, so it is important that the Biden administration appoint negotiators of commensurate rank and credentials to complete these diplomatic matters with our valued friends and allies in the region,” said Amata.
The congresswoman met with the Palau delegation led by President Surangel Whipps Jr. in Washington last week.
The funding provisions of the Compacts with the Federated States of Micronesia and Marshall Islands are expiring in 2023, and 2024 for Palau.
The initial rounds of renegotiation began last year. However, the Biden administration has yet to appoint a new team to succeed Ambassador Karen B. Stewart and Douglas W. Domenech, then assistant secretary for the Department of the Interior, who formed the U.S. negotiating team during the Trump administration.
“Has the administration made any changes to improve the 2020 U.S proposals or the manner in which negotiations are being conducted?" Amata asked. "It seems as if every time Palau is required to review and renegotiate the Compact, the U.S. downgrades the bilateral protocols for the negotiations."
She noted that the renegotiation process in 2010 led to a breakdown of continuity in funding the Compact economic assistance provisions.
"Now, as Palau has become more important to U.S. national security, the 2020 negotiating process required your government ministers and your President to negotiate with State Department desk officers and contract employees with no appointment, credentials or equivalent rank," Amata told the Palau negotiation.
"We don’t do that to our adversaries; why treat our friends that way? The Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations treated your government with more formality and a more orderly bilateral process when you were still under U.S. administration and not yet U.N. members. What is going on here?”
Amata urged the U.S. government to reemphasize proper protocols for the negotiations and process the appointment of key negotiators to begin discussions with the FAS.
Among those key issues to be negotiated, is the reported U.S. proposal to limit current negotiations to extending the expiring economic provisions for 20 years. While U.S. defense rights over the FAS lands and waters do not expire, the corresponding economic assistance is renegotiated every 20 years.
“Stability and long-term strategic partnership is in the U.S. security interest,” Amata said. “We had several senior Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle in our meeting, and I have no doubt we are united in seeing a need for productive extensions of all three compacts with these Pacific partners."