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US Confident of Reaching Strategic Agreement With Marshall Islands, Official Says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration is confident about reaching a strategic agreement with the Marshall Islands, the State Department’s senior official for East Asia and the Pacific told Congress on Tuesday.

The Pacific nation’s foreign minister last week called for more U.S. money to deal with the legacy of massive U.S. nuclear testing to enable his country to extend a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with Washington governing bilateral relations.

Assistant Secretary Daniel Kritenbrink told a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that the administration was “absolutely committed” to reaching an agreement with the Marshall Islands, calling such agreements “central to our entire position in the Pacific.”

“Every one of our partners, sovereign partners, in the Pacific, they have their own needs, desires, their own politics,” Kritenbrink said, declining to give more details about the negotiations. “We’re working through that right now, but I’m confident that we will get there.”

The Marshall Islands is one of three Pacific island nations covered by COFAs, under which the U.S. has responsibility for their defense and provides economic assistance, while gaining exclusive access to huge strategic swaths of the Pacific.

In May, the U.S. said it had finalized COFA terms with Micronesia and Palau, but talks with the Marshall Islands are yet to result in an agreement.

Renewing the deals, which is subject to congressional approval, has become a key part of U.S. efforts to push back against China’s bid to expand its regional influence.

Under memorandums of understanding agreed this year, the U.S. will commit a total of $7.1 billion over 20 years to the three nations.

Marshall Islanders are still plagued by health and environmental effects of 67 U.S. nuclear bomb tests from 1946 to 1958, which included “Castle Bravo” at Bikini Atoll in 1954 – the largest U.S. bomb ever detonated.

Source: US News