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U.S. Department of the Interior - Office of Insular Affairs
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Formerly Disputed Islands



In the twentieth century the United States has disputed with other nations the status of certain islands or atolls. Five (5) were in the Caribbean; twenty-five (25), in the Pacific. For purposes of discussion, one may divide these thirty (30) islands or atolls into seven groups.

(1) The status of the islands of Canton (Kanton), Enderbury, Hull (Orona), Birnie, Gardner (Nikumaroro), Phoenix (Rawaki), Sydney (Manra), McKean, Christmas (Kiritimati), Caroline, Starbuck, Malden, Flint and Vostok:
On September 20, 1979, representatives of the United States and Kiribati met in Tarawa Atoll in the northern district of the Gilbert Islands. There they signed a treaty of friendship on behalf of their two nations, an agreement which many refer to as the Treaty of Tarawa of 1979. Under that treaty the United States recognized Kiribati's sovereignty over these fourteen islands. This treaty entered into force on September 23, 1983.

(2) The status of the United States' claim to certain atolls in the northern  Cook Islands, Danger (Pukapuka), Manahiki, Penrhyn and Rakahanga:
On June 11, 1980, the United States and the Cook Islands signed in Rarotonga a treaty of friendship to delimit maritime boundaries. By the terms of this treaty the United States renounced its claim to these four atolls and acknowledged the sovereignty of the Cook Islands over them. This treaty entered into force on September 8, 1983.  Since August 4, 1965, the Cook Islands have been a state in free association with New Zealand. This relationship resembles very closely that which the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia have enjoyed with the United States since October 21, 1986,and November 3, 1986, respectively.

(3) The status of the United States' claim to certain atolls in the Union (Tokelau) Islands, Atafu, Fafaofu and Nukunono:
On December 2, 1980, the United States and New Zealand signed in Atafu Atoll itself a treaty to delimit the maritime boundary between the United States and Tokelau, a New Zealand territory. As a result of this treaty, the United States relinquished its claim to these three atolls and acknowledged New Zealand's sovereignty over them on Tokelau's behalf. This treaty entered into force on September 3, 1983.

(4) The status of the United States' claim to certain atolls in the Ellice Islands, Funafuti, Nukefetau, Nukulaelae and Nurakita (Niulakita):
On February 7, 1979, diplomats representing the United States and Tuvalu met in Funafuti Atoll itself and signed a treaty of friendship. By this treaty the United States ended its claim to these four atolls. This treaty entered into force on September 23, 1983.

(5) The United States' claim to Quita Sueno Bank, Roncador Cay and Serrana Bank:
To the north of Panama and east of Nicaragua, this cluster of islands was the subject of a treaty which the United States and Colombia signed in Bogota on September 8, 1972. Under its terms the United States has recognized Colombia's sovereignty over these islands. This treaty entered into force on September 17, 1981.

(6) The United States' former sovereignty over the Swan Islands:
In relative isolation, the Swan Islands lie in the western Caribbean, ninety-five miles north of the coast of Honduras and three hundred twenty miles west of Jamaica. They consist of Great Swan and Little Swan Islands, of which neither has any dimension of more than about two miles. In 1863 the area was certified as islands appertaining to the United States under the Guano Islands Act of August 18, 1856 (Title 48, U.S. Code, sections 1411-19), and guano operations were carried on there for many years.

The United States' later interests in the Swan Islands involved agricultural production in coconut plantations and aids to navigation and communications, resulting in continued United States occupation and use of the islands. In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on November 22,1971, American and Honduran representatives signed a treaty by which the United States recognized Honduras' long-standing claim to sovereignty over the Swan Islands. The treaty entered into force on September 1, 1972.

(7) The United States' former administration of the Corn Islands:
Made up of Great Corn and Little Corn Islands, the Corn Islands lie about thirty miles off the coast of Nicaragua. They never were a U.S. insular area, that is, under the sovereignty of the United States, but were leased from Nicaragua for a period of ninety-nine years under the Convention of Washington, D.C., of August 5, 1914.  The terms of the lease made the Corn Islands subject exclusively to American laws and administration. However, with the United States' acquiescence, the Government of Nicaragua directed the islands' local administration. The United States' right to the actual or potential use of the islands remained unimpaired until April 25, 1971, when the lease was officially terminated and the Convention of Managua of July 14, 1970, entered into force.

REMAINING U.S. CLAIMS

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