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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (April 21, 2000 - Marshall Islands Journal)---U.S. government officials confirmed to the Journal that the American tobacco industry has "briefed" them on the RMI’s lawsuit.

During Foreign Minister Alvin Jacklick’s visit to Washington, D.C. last month, at least one Congressional staffer brought concern about the lawsuit to the attention of the RMI delegation. And, while top RMI officials say they are not under pressure from the U.S. government or the tobacco industry lobbying efforts on the Hill, one RMI official expressed the fear that U.S. Congressional leaders could hold a renegotiated Compact "hostage" over the tobacco suit.

U.S. State Department officials Emil Skodon said in Majuro earlier this month that tobacco industry officials had "briefed us" about the case. "We’re aware of it," he added. But Skodon, who heads State’s office of Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Island Affairs, said that "we have no interest in the lawsuit." U.S. government policy, he said, is to insure that U.S. companies are treated fairly in overseas courts. From that standpoint, the U.S. administration will monitor the progress of the case, he said.

Meanwhile, Jacklick told the Journal that "we’re not under pressure from the tobacco industry."

Some concern has been raised by U.S. Congressional staff regarding consumer protection legislation that was amended by the Nitijela shortly before the filing of the RMI suit in 1997.

U.S. Congressional staffers who raised the issue "were not concerned that the law was amended to suit our own interests, but they don’t like the precedent set by Marshall Islands to make it easier to win the lawsuit," Jacklick said.

Jacklick said he understands the concern. For example, if a problem developed from coconut oil exported to the U.S. so that people sued the RMI in U.S. courts and at the same time, the California legislature changed consumer protection laws to give the lawsuits a greater chance of winning in court, the Marshalls would complain, he said.

"We wouldn’t like it if the same happened to the Marshall Islands government in the U.S." he said.

The Foreign Minister said that as part of the government’s overall reform program, all legislation that has been amended in the past several years, as well as new legislation needed to implement reforms, is under review.

"We’re not doing the review because of the U.S. tobacco industry," he said. "We’re reviewing all laws that were amended. Any laws needing revision, we’ll do it. But we’re not going to do it because someone in the U.S. Congress wants it. We’re reviewing legislation because it’s the right thing to do."

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: journal@ntamar.com  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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