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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (February 13, 2002 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---The Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia "lack broad strategic importance" to America, a United States General Accounting Office study said.

It said only the Kwajalein missile testing range in the Marshall Islands is of major importance.

The impact of "strategic denial," importance of sea lanes, and support received from the two countries at the United Nations have been overstated, the report contended.

But Defence Department spokesperson Peter Rodman said the military disagreed with the General Accounting Office's contention that strategic denial is of little significance.

He said "future uncertainty over security trends in the Pacific makes a continued right to strategic denial in Micronesia essential."

Both the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia also objected to key points in the report. This is particularly the assertion that since the end of the Cold War the two areas are of little strategic significance.

At the height of the Cold War, in the early 1980s, the U.S. signed a Compact of Free Association with both countries. It has provided about $1.7 billion to the Federated States of Micronesia and $800 million to the Marshall Islands for 15 years.

This includes for the use of the Kwajalein missile range, and the right of strategic denial. This is the ability to deny other countries access to this watery North Pacific area that extends nearly the size of the continental U.S.

In the report titled "Kwajalein Atoll is the Key U.S. Defence Interest in the two Micronesian Nations," the General Accounting Office confirmed the importance of Kwajalein.

This is America's primary missile defense testing ground, described as "an important and unique national asset" that would be "difficult and expensive to replace."

But aside from Kwajalein, Defense officials don't see either the Marshall Islands or Federated States of Micronesia as important strategically anymore, the report claimed.

The General Accounting Office said its analysis of other defense issues, aside from Kwajalein, and United Nations votes show their importance is "overstated."

The Federated States of Micronesia Washington Ambassador Jesse Marehalau said he was surprised. He said that the report "incorrectly minimizes the value of the unique U.S.-FSM defense and security relationships."

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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