US and FSM begin negotiations on expiring provisions of Compact of Free Association

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POHNPEI (Secretariat for the Joint Committee on Compact Review & Planning) — Negotiators representing the United States and the Federated States of Micronesia met by video conference on May 27 for the first session of negotiations on the expiring provisions of the Compact of Free Association between the two nations.

Both sides expressed regret at being unable to meet in person because of current circumstances but pledged to make the most of the virtual meetings until face-to-face meetings can resume. They welcomed the resumption of talks and expressed a desire for a speedy and successful conclusion to the negotiations.

Calling 2019 “a historic time in the relationship between our two countries,” U.S. co-negotiator Ambassador Karen Stewart highlighted the steps that led to the start of the current talks, beginning with the May 2019 meeting between President Donald Trump and President David Panuelo in Washington, D.C. This was followed by the historic visits later in the year to the FSM by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, and a U.S. interagency team.

U.S. co-negotiator Doug Domenech, assistant Interior secretary for insular and international affairs, underscored the shared history, shared values and mutual ties that bind the two nations together. He pointed to several examples of this in programs such as Pell Grants and most recently the joint efforts with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic. Assistant Secretary Domenech explained that the U.S. had set out an ambitious timetable for the discussions and stressed that the U.S./FSM bilateral relationship is “strong and here to last.”

Stating that the FSM “commitment to mutual security is enduring and that the U.S.-FSM strategic partnership reflects the common values of our two countries,” FSM chief negotiator Falcam stressed the importance to the FSM of maintaining and improving the special and longstanding relationship it shares with the U.S. He welcomed the prompt start to negotiations and pledged his delegation’s best efforts to meet the ambitious schedule proposed by the U.S., reminding that both the FSM Congress and the U.S. Congress would need to approve the delegations’ work once agreement is reached.

The Compact of Free Association was implemented in 1986. Financial provisions of that original agreement expired after 17 years and were renewed through the Amended Compact of Free Association in 2003. A number of key economic support provisions and U.S. programs and services are scheduled to expire in 2023 unless extended or renegotiated. Other elements of the Compact relationship have no expiration date and remain in effect.

During the meeting, delegates paused to remember and express condolences at the untimely passing of longtime U.S. diplomat in the Pacific, Ambassador Matt Matthews. The FSM also extended condolences to the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States and gratitude to the U.S. for their support to the FSM in combating the pandemic.

Both sides agreed that early discussions would focus on federal programs and services and noted the cooperative work that had been done by both sides in the past few months. Work on this and other topics will take place in technical discussion to move the process forward in advance of the next formal bilateral meeting, tentatively scheduled for the end of June 2020.

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