U.S. INTERIOR CHIEF TO VISIT PACIFIC ISLANDS

News Release

Office of the Secretary of the Interior

June 7, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne told the Pacific Islander community that he intends to visit the U.S. territories and Freely Associated States as soon as possible in a speech last night at Pacific Night 2006.

He also thanked them for great sacrifices in the War on Terror, citing figures on islanders’ service and loss of life in Iraq.

"I feel honored and blessed to be the 49th Secretary of the Interior," said Kempthorne, who will be sworn in at the White House today, June 7. "I take my responsibility with respect to the Pacific very seriously."

The new Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs David Cohen, who oversee the Department’s administration of the bulk of U.S. development aid to the Pacific, were participating in the largest single annual event for the Pacific Islander community in the Washington, DC area. More than 700 diplomatic and government representatives from the Pacific and key Administration, congressional, academic and business representatives attended the event, at the National Geographic Society’s Explorers Hall.

Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs, which has an annual budget of more than US$425 million to serve the needs of the islands, provides grants and other programs to the U.S. Pacific territories, the Freely Associated States and Hawaii.

"We hope our assistance has a positive economic spillover effect on the other nations and territories of the Pacific," Kempthorne said. "Whatever we’ve given the Pacific community, you’ve given us back much more."

The Secretary noted that Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs has the highest concentration of Pacific Islanders of any agency in the federal government including Cohen and Nik Pula, Director of the Office of Insular Affairs. Secretary Kempthorne thanked these two "exceptional leaders" for their public service.

"You’ve given us hundreds of heroes," Kempthorne noted. "We’re grateful for the enormous sacrifice the Pacific has made fighting the War on Terror. The U.S. Pacific territories, the Freely Associated States, and our coalition partners throughout the Pacific have seen a disproportionate number of their finest men and women make the ultimate sacrifice defending freedom."

Recent figures cited by the Secretary show that the number of military personnel from American Samoa killed in Iraq, on a per capita basis, is almost 13.5 times the U.S. national average. For the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the per capita death rate in Iraq is almost five times the national average. In Guam it is more than twice the national average. Even the Federated States of Micronesia, which is not a part of the United States, has a per capita death rate in Iraq that is three-and-a-half times the U.S. average.

"Beyond the mere numbers, I know the Pacific sends its best and brightest to serve in the military. . . .On behalf of the United States of America, I just want to say: thank you, and God bless you, and God bless those we have lost and their loved ones," Kempthorne concluded.

June 8, 2006

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