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Marshall Islands claim talks on military access with the United States have ‘stalled’

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, U.S., January 26, 2022. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS

Despite the fact that America’s top diplomat is visiting the Pacific area to oppose China’s growing power and influence, the Marshall Islands’ ambassador to Washington said talks to extend accords governing military access had stagnated.

The news: Despite the Biden administration’s objective of strengthening Indo-Pacific cooperation, the envoy, Gerald Zackios, said that there have been no conversations on renewing its Compact of Free Association Agreement (COFA) with the United States since the conclusion of the Trump government in 2020.

  • This, according to Zackios, is due to the fact that President Joe Biden has yet to select a negotiator to discuss topics other than economic aid, such as recompense for the legacy of major U.S. nuclear testing on the islands, the existence of U.S. military bases, and climate change mitigation.
  • Last week, a senior Biden administration official said the government intends to start a new Pacific Islands effort with friends and partners, as well as finish COFA negotiations with the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau, but specified no timescale.
  • The compacts in the first two states are set to expire in 2023, while Palau’s is set to expire in 2024.

What they’re saying: “They’ve stalled,” Zackios said in reference to the Pacific republic’s negotiations with Washington. “In the case of the Marshall Islands, I would use that word.”

  • “My view is that these negotiations are stalled until we get a presidential appointed special envoy who will have the authority to discuss key issues that are important to the Marshall Islands.”
  • Katie Porter, a Democratic congresswoman who has raised the subject of Pacific Islands in the U.S. Congress, wrote to Biden’s Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell in September, requesting the establishment of a full-time presidential envoy to oversee the COFA talks.
  • Porter, the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, has yet to get an official answer, according to a spokesman.

What’s going on: Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is in Australia this week for a Quad meeting with Japan, India, and Australia on Friday, which is expected to include a discussion of the Pacific islands.

  • On Saturday Blinken will be in Fiji, where he’ll try to convince Pacific Island leaders that the U.S. and its partners are dedicated to combating climate change and providing security and COVID vaccines, even as China ramps up its aid and influence.
  • Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands, with the health and environmental consequences still being felt by islanders.
  • The “Castle Bravo” test at Bikini Atoll in 1954 was the largest U.S. bomb ever detonated, 1,000 times more powerful than the one that exploded over Hiroshima in 1945.
  • Beijing has strengthened military and police ties with Pacific Island governments in recent years, as well as giving money and infrastructure.
  • Last month, Campbell warned of a “strategic surprise” in the Pacific, presumably referring to Chinese plans to create Pacific-island bases.
  • He claimed that the U.S. had not done enough to assist the region and that there was only a short time to “raise up our game across the board” with partners such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and fellow Pacific power France.
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