Washington, DC — Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan called for approval this year of the long overdue extension of the Compact of Free Association between the United States and the Republic of Palau. At a hearing he requested on his bipartisan legislation, approving the fifteen-year extension, Sablan outlined both the geopolitical rationale and the good-faith principle for the U.S. to keep its promise to its longtime Pacific ally. The Compact first went into force in 1994 with congressional approval. Palau reached agreement with U.S. negotiators on the terms of an extension in 2010, but Conges has never approved that deal.
“Congressional approval of the Palau Compact extension is long overdue,” Congressman Sablan said in his opening remarks at the hearing. “Six years overdue to be exact.
“This is no way to treat a friend. And it is no way for our nation to maintain influence in an increasingly important and contested part of the world. America must make good on her promises to Palau.”
Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), who presided at the meeting of the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Native Alaskan Affairs, made the same point. “We have not lived up to our word,” the Chairman told Palau Ambassador Hersey Kyota, who testified at the hearing. “We sat down and cut a deal. Let’s live up to our word.”
The 2010 extension agreement provides $216 million in direct assistance and $232 million in discretionary program assistance from the U.S. to Palau. The Compact grants the United States exclusive military use rights in the lands and waters of Palau.
Also questioning the witnesses today were Congresswomen Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa) and Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam), who are both cosponsors of Sablan’s bill, and Representative Paul Cook (R-California). Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who heads the House Natural Resources Committee, spent time listening to the testimony, too.
Along with Ambassador Kyota, Interior Department Assistant Secretary Esther Kia’aina testified in favor of extending the Compact. Dr. David Gootnick of the Government Accountability Office provided expert testimony on the financial and technical aspects of the agreement.
Support for extension of the Palau Compact has been gathering momentum in the 114th Congress. In November 2015, Sablan, along with Bordallo and Hawai’i’s Tulsi Gabbard (D) and Mark Takai (D), made a formal request to the Department of Defense to support inclusion of the Palau Compact extension in the Fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. And Sablan followed up by introducing his legislation, H.R. 4531, in February of this year.
Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced extension approval legislation in March, together with Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai’i). Murkowski’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on her bill in April.
Last month, the Defense Department wrote to both the House and Senate Armed Services committees agreeing to inclusion of the extension in the Defense Authorization, the approach recommended by Sablan, Bordallo, Gabbard, and Takai. And Senator Hirono successfully added language to that bill during debate on the Senate floor, expressing the sense of Congress that the Palau issue must be resolved.
In the absence of approval of the extension, Congress has instead been giving Palau $13 million in annual assistance through the appropriations process.
Sablan’s bill makes up for the money that Palau has lost because of this year-by-year funding arrangement.
“My bill seeks to make Palau whole for the financial assistance it would have received had the extension been approved in 2010,” he explained at the hearing. H.R. 4351 would provide immediate and substantial U.S. investments to the Palau Trust Fund and Palau’s infrastructure, back these investments with the full faith and credit of the U.S., and make adjustments for inflation.[[/restrict]