Important Washington Meetings Reaffirm Relationships under the Compacts of Free Association
WASHINGTON – Today at the White House, President Donald J. Trump held a historic meeting with the Presidents of the freely associated states (FAS) in the Western Pacific: President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr, of the Republic of Palau; President Hilda C. Heine of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI); and President David W. Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).
“I applaud President Trump for holding this historic meeting” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. "This was the first time that the Presidents of these three sovereign Pacific Island nations have been invited to the White House by the President of the United States, in recognition of the special relationship of free association with the United States, It was an honor to meet with President Remengesau of Palau, President Heine of the Marshall Islands, and President Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia. The United States and these three Pacific Island nations enjoy a strong, mutually beneficial and bilateral relationship under the terms of the Compacts of Free Association.”
Secretary David Bernhardt and Doug Domenech, Interior Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs, held individual meetings with the three presidents at the Department of the Interior yesterday. The FAS leaders also met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan, among other high-level U.S. officials.
“For more than three decades, the Department of the Interior has been pleased to play a pivotal role in supporting the U.S. relationship with each of these three independent and sovereign nations in the Pacific,” said Assistant Secretary Domenech. “The Office of Insular Affairs team and I will continue to work alongside our federal partners to keep the U.S. relationship thriving with each of the freely associated states: the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia,” Domenech concluded.
As part of the official itinerary for the Washington visit, the three presidents participated in an official wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery with Major General Michael L. Howard, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, and U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie. The ceremony recognized the young men and women from Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia who have given the ultimate sacrifice for freedom while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. The ceremony began and ended with a 21-gun salute in honor of the three presidents and included a full color guard presentation with flags from all 50 states and territories.
Brief remarks by President Remengesau of Palau, President Heine of the Marshall Islands and President Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia on the Compact relationship and their meeting with Secretary Bernhardt on this historic trip to Washington follow:
“The Compacts of Free Association relationships that we share with the United States of America have been strong and mutually beneficial,” said Palau President Remengesau. “The Compacts have provided the backbone of U.S. military strategy in the Pacific for decades; our cherished sovereignty has enabled us to protect our cultures and resources for our people; at the United Nations, we have been one of the United States’ most consistent allies, voting in support of the values of free expression and the rule of law; many of our citizens are living productive lives in communities across the United States and its territories; and our young men and women also serve in the U.S. military, where some have even made the ultimate sacrifice alongside fellow Americans,” President Remengesau continued. “While we affirm this alliance, we want to ensure that it also adapts. We would welcome a larger U.S. military and law enforcement presence in Palau where our citizens, including veterans, can take a greater role in this partnership. The Compact will be more effective when we share the responsibilities,” President Remengesau concluded.
“Relationships and communities are only as strong as their people – I have advocated for more inclusion, consideration, and participation of Pacific Island women and girls in political, communal, and economic decision-making for stronger island families and communities,” said Marshall Islands President Heine. “Along this same vein, we would hope that the FAS families who choose to live and work in the United States, as provided for under the Compact, are not excluded or prohibited by recent laws such as the REAL ID Act, preventing them from contributing fully within their respective communities. Likewise, Marshallese citizens who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and obtain valuable skills and experience should not be discouraged from returning to the Marshall Islands, due to a lack of benefits and services available there,” President Heine continued. “We also look forward to continuing our work with the U.S. Administration to improve the viability and sustainability of our Compact Trust Fund with additional investments so that it can achieve its intended purposes. This will be of great benefit to both nations in the future. Our people and our islands are highly vulnerable to climate-related risks and natural disasters – we appreciate that President Trump has been very proactive about issuing disaster declarations for our region and look forward to the relationship between our people continuing in strength, peace, and prosperity, both here in the United States and in the Marshall Islands,” President Heine concluded.
“How fitting that my first official trip as President of the Federated States of Micronesia is for this historic visit to meet with U.S. President Donald J. Trump. Our two countries have always shared a close relationship, and I look forward to keeping it that way,” said FSM President Panuelo. “We are encouraged by the U.S. commitment to increase its presence in the region, which is crucial to regional and international peace and security. Our relationship with the United States under the Compact of Free Association is unique. President Trump recently signed the Executive Order on Economic Empowerment of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and we thank him for this unprecedented initiative,” President Panuelo continued. “As we work with both the Department of State and the Department of the Interior, as well as Members of the U.S. Congress on matters relating to the Compact, the FSM will be requesting an extension of the expiring provisions of the Amended Compact,” President Panuelo concluded.
The REAL ID Act Modification for Freely Associated States Act (Public Law 115-323) introduced by Representative Don Young (R-AK), and signed into law by President Trump on December 17, 2018, amended the 2005 REAL ID Act (Public Law 109-13) to permit FAS individuals to meet identification requirements.
The Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-409), signed into law by President Trump on December 31, 2018, included a sense of Congress that the Compacts of Free Association: 1) enhance the strategic posture of the United States, 2) reinforce United States regional commitment, and 3) preempt potential adversaries from establishing positional advantage.
Furthermore, on May 13, 2019, President Donald J. Trump signed the Executive Order on Economic Empowerment of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, which includes a provision allowing, for the first time, citizens of Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia to be appointed members of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders along with American citizens and nationals.
Each of these three Pacific Island nations have shared a long historical relationship with the United States since World War II. Following plebiscites in each island nation, the relationships evolved into free associations under the Compacts of Free Association.
The U.S. relationship with the Republic of Palau is guided by U.S. Public Law 99-658, the Compact of Free Association, which came into effect on October 1, 1994. The Compact agreement with Palau was reviewed upon the 15-year anniversary of the agreement in 2009, and signed in 2018, under what is known as the 2010 Palau Compact Review Agreement.
The U.S. relationships with the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia are guided by U.S. Public Law 99-239, the Compact of Free Association Act of 1986, amended subsequently in 2003 as U.S. Public Law 108-188, the Compact of Free Association Amendments Act.
The Compacts of Free Association provide for important strategic defense rights and responsibilities between the U.S. and the freely associated states and allow for young men and women from the FAS to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. They serve in all branches and have among the highest rates of service per capita in comparison to all U.S. states and territories.
Under the Compacts, FAS individuals may live, work, and study in the United States without visa requirements. As announced earlier this month by Assistant Secretary Domenech, a 2018 U.S. Census Bureau enumeration placed the largest number of FAS individuals residing in the United States in Guam (18,874) and Hawaii (16,680). Other Census data estimates the next five U.S. jurisdictions with the highest number of FAS individuals as Arkansas (3,625), Washington (3,430), Oregon (2,580), the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (2,535), and Texas (2,090).
The Department of the Interior administers direct economic assistance to all three freely associated states on behalf of the United States government and chairs the Joint Economic Management Committees and Trust Fund Committees as provided for under the Compacts of Free Association. The U.S. relationships with Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia continue in perpetuity under the Compacts of Free Association, however, under current Compact laws, certain economic and financial provisions begin to expire as early as 2023.