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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (October 21, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---After years of estrangement, the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs and the CNMI agreed yesterday to set aside differences in a bid to foster mutual cooperation on issues confronting the island, including federal assistance and economic development.

Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio warmly received OIA Director Danny Aranza during their meeting at the start of his first official visit to the Northern Marianas since assuming the post months ago.

The discussion, according to Tenorio, focused on mutual concerns, such as Y2K assistance from the federal government, capital improvement projects and Covenant 702 funding.

"He's very receptive now and. . . this initial meeting indicated that there is an effort and willingness to sit down and discuss some of the issues," the Governor told reporters in an interview after the three-hour meeting which also included finance and other administration officials.

"That's a good indication that he's willing to work with us," added Tenorio.

Aranza, who is accompanied by two other longtime OIA officials on the trip, described the talks with CNMI officials as going "extremely well." He is scheduled to meet with other Cabinet members and representatives of the private sector today in the continuation of his two-day visit.

"I told (the Governor) basically that for too long now, (OIA) and the CNMI have had a rocky relationship. It's really time to move beyond that and really work together on issues where there is room to agree and work constructively," he told reporters.

Among the areas which they hope to address include economic development and diversification, but not labor and immigration, which Aranza admitted remain sticky for both parties.

"There is clear understanding we are going to agree to disagree," he explained. "We are going to move beyond that into areas where we can agree."

Aranza's visit, originally set last week, came a month after island leaders appeared at congressional hearings in Washington D.C. tackling federal takeover legislation as well as efforts to augment U.S. assistance to the CNMI.


OIA, which is under the Department of the Interior, has been viewed widely by Commonwealth leaders as an adversary rather than an advocate of the islands’ interests, due in part to its criticisms of local handling of labor and immigration functions.

Recently some OIA and Interior officials have come under fire for alleged on-the-job political campaigning that U.S. House Resources Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) said was aimed at unseating Republican congressional leaders sympathetic to CNMI's situation.

Tenorio said his administration has resolved to iron out differences with OIA that have stemmed largely from these issues. "Our position is that we should set aside what happened and see what we can do to work to improve our relationship for the benefit of the community here," he said.

The island government also hopes to get assistance from the federal government, particularly OIA, in trying to revive the slumping commonwealth economy.

According to the Governor, he has always considered relations with OIA "good," but that these issues came in the way, which hampered mutual cooperation between the two parties.

"Instead of fighting with us, we should get together and try to find a way so that we can resolve some of the problems we have. If they have any concerns, they should let us know so that we could try to correct them if necessary," said Tenorio.

Aranza, who is scheduled to depart Saipan late today after the round of talks, had been the deputy director until former OIA chief Allen P. Stayman was appointed a few months ago as head of the Washington's panel negotiating a new Compact of Free Association agreement with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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