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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety/PINA) - United States and Marshall Islands negotiators are meeting in Washington to discuss an American rental offer for long-term use of the Kwajalein missile testing range.

Marshall Islands officials were mum about an American government counter-offer received last week. This is responding to a recent Marshall Islands proposal to increase rental levels and extend use of Kwajalein for an additional 50 years.

Pentagon officials have indicated their interest in extending American use of the central Pacific missile range for 40 years.

The USA is currently paying about US$13 million annually to use Kwajalein with a lease that doesn’t expire until 2016.

But the Marshall Islands wants about US$21 million annually for extending use of Kwajalein at least until 2043

Kwajalein’s boomerang-shaped necklace of coral islands is playing a central role in the Bush administration’s push for a deployable anti-missile defense system.

Kwajalein, the target for missiles launched from California, has some of the world¹s most sophisticated missile tracking and missile interceptor equipment. It is used to field test anti-missile technology.

American and Marshall Islands negotiators used the opportunity of negotiations on the new 20-year Compact of Free Association funding package to open discussions on a longer lease.

Foreign Minister Gerald Zackios said he couldn’t discuss details of the American proposal because Marshall Islands officials first needed to meet with Kwajalein leaders.

Zackios did say, however, that "there are some things we can work with in the U.S. proposal but we need to review it internally and then talk with the U.S."

He said it was clear that it would take more than the one day of scheduled discussions to hammer out a new Kwajalein agreement that is satisfactory to all sides.

Zackios left for Washington on Tuesday. Other Marshall Islands negotiators and numerous Kwajalein leaders have also flown to Washington for the talks.

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