US Ambassador Joel Ehrendreich to the Republic of Palau.

US Ambassador to the Republic of Palau, fourth US Ambassador accredited to Palau.

Q:  Welcome to Palau, Your Excellency.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.  Can you share some of your background information that would contribute to your role here as a US Ambassador?

 A: First, I’m very excited to be in Palau. When I was nominated to come here, all my friends in Washington who had been to Palau said, Oh, you’re so lucky to be going to Palau. And in my short time here, I now see what they meant. It’s a wonderful place. I’ve been touched by the warm reception that I’ve received from Palau.

And you know, Palau is famous around the world for being such a warm and friendly place. And I’ve certainly seen that, and it’s in that spirit of friendship that I intend to do my work as an ambassador. So, thank you.

In terms of my background, I’ve spent a career around Palau. I did two tours in Japan, one in Okinawa, and I understand that Okinawa has a special connection. I was in the Philippines. I was in Singapore, Australia, and India. I was also a Peace Corps volunteer in Nisha in West Africa. So, I think that kind of background can hopefully help me really connect. In terms of the qualities I bring to the job, one is enthusiasm. I’m just so excited to be here at a time when there’s such a focus on the Pacific Islands. And it’s really an exciting time in US-Palau relations. I know we have a very special history together, and I hope to contribute in some small way to a bright future together. Another thing is that I bring values that will be important to my work here. I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, America’s Midwest. And Milwaukee is like Palau, renowned for being a place that’s friendly and welcomes visitors. I also had a mother who had strong moral values. So what I’ll bring to the job is real sincerity in wanting to connect with people and get to know people on a personal level, as well as eagerness to get involved in the community.

Q:  You are the fourth US ambassador to Palau. As you mentioned, you’re coming in at a time when there’s so much focus on the Pacific. Not only that, you’re also coming in at a time when the island country is recovering from the pandemic with its challenges. What role do you play in helping Palau in the current situation, and is it specific to Palau?

A:  Well, as you suggested, this is a really exciting time to be in Palau because the United States, after some years of underperforming in the region, is really trying to increase its diplomatic and development footprint in the region. So, as you’re aware, President Biden has hosted the Pacific Leaders Summit. The United States has opened new embassies in the region: the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Tonga. We’ve named our first-ever special envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum. We have our first-ever Pacific partnership strategy and the partners of the Blue Pacific initiative. So, quite a bit of attention. This embassy has nearly doubled in size in just the past few years. That’s a great example of the importance that this administration is placing on the region. In terms of what I or the embassy can do to support Palau? Well, first, I’d say we’ve seen in the last couple of years evidence that our support is increasing. The first thing I point to is the Compact Review Agreement, which will nearly quadruple the amount of development assistance that the United States will provide to Palau. And it really serves as an investment in the foundation of Palau’s economy, which includes about $5 million a year specifically in infrastructure investment. So we have that kind of investment going on. We are also helping Palau with things like capacity building. So whether that’s in the area of fisheries management or soil conservation, which, by the way, are areas that have kind of a multiplying effect, because when we’re helping build Palau and capacity there, that also contributes to Palau’s ability to grow food, helps Palau’s food security and also protect the environment. This will help Palau attract more tourists who are attracted to Palau’s pristine paradise environment.  I’m very proud of the track record that we have. There’s also renewed interest in Palau in terms of the other agencies in the US government who are looking here. The Department of Commerce, US Trade Representatives Office, USA Trade and Development Agency, Finance Corporation, and USAID are all taking another look at the region to see what more the United States could be doing and what other possibilities exist.

Q:  You mentioned the Compact Review Agreement.  That has not passed US Congress.  Also, during the US-Pacific Summit in Washington, the United States promised certain financial assistance to the Pacific, but that has not been realized.  What is your prediction?  When will these happen?

A:  I don’t know. I can’t speak for Congress. I can’t make a prediction but I can tell you that from the time I found out I was the nominee to come here until now, I have seen broad bipartisan support for the Compact Review Agreement that we signed together. That’s a really good sign that the implementing legislation should come sooner rather than later. I don’t know if you ever saw my Senate confirmation hearing testimony. But at that time, I urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and I urge Congress to take swift action to complete the implementing legislation. I will continue to do so from here. I understand there is a House of Representatives hearing on the Compact Agreements, all three, Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia, this week.  I hope that will be a good sign for more progress to come.

Q:  Concerns have been raised about Palau becoming part of the Indo-Pacific strategy, especially in our congress.  They feel we should not be, as Palau has no enemies.  They say becoming more closely involved with the United States Indo-Pacific Strategy makes us a target.  What are your thoughts on that?

A:  I don’t agree that Palau is becoming more of a target. In fact, I think Palau and the United States, working together on security and defense issues, make Palau safer. There’s no question that, you know if you look at the history, those who are able to control access to Palau, the Pacific Islands, the so-called second island chain, that carries military benefits. So today, those opposed to the international order might look to Palau and several other countries in their plans, and that’s why the United States wants to work with Palau on strengthening our defense and security. The United States believes in peace through strength. We believe that if we put up a strong enough defense system, other countries who might seek to change things through military action will be convinced that they would be doomed to fail with that kind of action, or at least at the cost would be so high that it would be a poor decision even to start that kind of thing. I think President Whipps put it very well that presence is deterrence. And also I think the United States and Palau continue to work in close consultation is the best way for Palau to assure peace.

Q: A negotiation on the new plastic treaty by the Pacific small island states is going on right now.  Where does the United States stand on this issue?  It is a threat to Marine Environment and livelihoods, especially for large ocean states.

A:  We can get back to you on the United States’ position on this issue. But I can tell you two things. First of all, in the beautiful residence they have me living in here, I can see every day there are 10 or 15 plastic bottles that wash up on shore. I know this is a problem for the world.

The Biden administration has done such great work, taking global leadership on climate issues. I know climate change is an existential threat for Palau and others in the region. I just met with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Environment earlier this week, and we discussed ways that we might be able to cooperate with the upcoming COP meetings. We have a lot in common when it comes to climate change, and I know the United States and Palau continue to work together on our shared concerns.

Q:  What legacy would you like to leave after your term here?

A: That’s a wonderful question. But first, let me go back to the climate change stuff because it’s important. I want to give you a little bit more on the personal side. As you know, this embassy that we’re in right now recently installed solar panels, and we’re not only providing clean energy for ourselves, we’re selling some of the solar energy, clean energy back to Palau’s grid. I personally have shipped an electric vehicle here.  I understand it’s going to be one of the first, if not the first full-size electric vehicle in Palau. So I’m happy about that. Of course, the United States was proud to co-host the Our Ocean conference, and we have ongoing programs with USAID and the US Department of Agriculture. So we’re going to be able to continue to work closely on climate change issues, and I know that’s really important for Palau. In terms of legacy, I’ll tell you that I got into diplomacy and foreign service work, probably my Peace Corps work, because I wanted to contribute to world peace. That’s what I wanted to do in my life. I feel like I’ve just been gifted. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work as a United States diplomat, and I know Palau is a peaceful nation. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to work with people, help government officials and the people of Palau, and advance our people-to-people ties more.

I know people-to-people ties are the basis of and the fruit of strong relationships. For me, often, people-to-people ties come through my baseball diplomacy. I love baseball. I don’t know if you heard this morning; we were talking with Bligh Madris. And I hope to be able to do some good baseball diplomacy, maybe bring over some coaches. I’ve been to a baseball game here at the stadium, where I’ve met some people involved in baseball. And I’ve already been asking if we can put together a master’s level baseball game. I still want to play. So we’ll try to do that. We’ll do other things besides baseball, too. But I hope in building those people-to-people connections that’ll help me and help the people that I meet, all of us contribute to world peace.

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