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US eases restriction on US territories' membership in Pacific Islands Forum

Updated: Jun 6



By Mar-Vic Cagurangan


The U.S. government has agreed to allow U.S. territories to join the Pacific Islands Forum as non-voting associate members, modifying an old policy that previously barred their participation in international organizations in "any capacity."


Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week wrote to territorial governors, Lou Leon Guerrero of Guam, Arnold Palacios of the Northern Marianas and Lemanu Mauga of American Samoa, informing them that the U.S. government has officially endorsed the U.S. territories’ application for associate membership in the Forum.


Guam, the Northern Marianas and American Samoa, which currently hold observer status, have sought active participation in the Forum instead of being silent on the periphery.

While supporting their bid for PIF membership, Blinken cautioned the territories against taking any action that may be inconsistent with their political status.


Under the U.S. Constitution and longstanding policy practice, the federal government “has full responsibility to conduct the foreign relations of all areas under U.S. jurisdictions," he said in the letter to the governors.


“U.S. states, territories and possessions are precluded from independently exercising foreign policy prerogatives of the U.S. federal government," Blinken said, reiterating the department's policy issued in 2011 but has since been taken down from its website.


Founded in 1971, the Forum is the region’s premier political and economic policy organization. It is becoming an influential bloc in the region caught in a tug-of-war among the world's superpowers.


The Biden administration has twice hosted PIF leaders during the U.S.-Pacific Island Summit at the White House in 2022 and 2023.


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If the PIF gave the nod to the territories' bid for membership, their engagements would be bound by parameters set by the U.S. government. They may not take any position on foreign policy issues.


Leon Guerrero welcomed the U.S. government's support for Guam's associate membership application. "This announcement comes on the heels of the Micronesian Islands Forum, building on the progress made during this annual meeting,” she said.

 

The recently concluded conference, she added, underscored the “recurring theme resonated with each emerging issue.”


Sharing the same struggles, the Pacific islands “must work together to take action," she added. “Guam shares in the challenges of our fellow islanders, and we have so much to offer this esteemed organization. Together, we can be part of the greater effort to protect this side of the Pacific."


Blinken said the State Department "anticipates advance consultations concerning any positions or statements they plan to introduce in future PIF sessions that may impact U.S. foreign policy."


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CNMI Gov. Arnold Palacios said that while the U.S. territories will not have the vote in the Forum, their membership “will add to the collective voice of Micronesia in promoting our common interests and helping each other.”


“We are truly grateful for the advocacy from my Micronesian brothers and sisters to have us included in the PIF as well,” Palacios said in his closing remarks at the Micronesian Islands Forum on Tuesday. 


Currently, the Forum comprises 18 members including Australia, the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. New Caledonia and French Polynesia, both French territories, are currently the only non-self-governing members.


“The United States has decided to initiate these discussions with the PIF in light of Guam’s interest in increasing its participation in the PIF and the common challenges and interests Guam shares with the PIF member states,” Blinken wrote.





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