US House Subcommittee Unanimously Approves Palau Compact Renewal

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Differences on how to pay for agreement remain

By Aurea Gerundio-Dizon

KOROR, Palau (Island Times, July 16, 2012) – The Office of the President yesterday announced that the lead United States House of Representatives subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the Compact of Free Association Review Agreement unanimously approved the agreement.

The agreement was approved in the subcommittee level, it still needs the approval of the whole House of Representatives and the Senate before it goes to President Obama for his signature.

The President’s Office said that the agreement, negotiated by President Johnson Toribiong and Compact Review Ambassador Joshua Koshiba, signed with a representative of the Executive Branch of the Government of the United States in September 2010, has been supported by chairmen and ranking minority party representatives of all of the committees of the US Congress with jurisdiction over it.

Although no member from the House or Senate has opposed the agreement, approval by the entire Congress has been delayed for more than a year now because of the dispute between the US Executive Branch and the Congress on how to pay for the costs of the agreement.

The US Executive Branch reportedly suggested that the costs be paid for by certain changes in Department of the Interior programs but the chairmen and ranking minority party members of the congressional committees, with jurisdiction over the Interior Department, said that the changes could not be approved by their committees.

Also, the chairmen of the House and Senate committees on appropriations of funds reportedly said that the proposals could not be used to pay for the agreement’s costs.

The President’s Office expressed appreciation to Subcommittee Chairman Donald A. Manzullo (Republican-Illinois) and Ranking Minority Member Eni Faleomavaega (Democrat-American Samoa) of the subcommittee for their efforts that helped in the passage of the agreement at the subcommittee level.

During yesterday's subcommittee meeting, Manzullo reportedly said the following: "The Compact renewal with Palau preserves an important relationship that is vital to our national security. Palau is a strong supporter of Israel at the U.N., votes consistently to condemn communist Cuba, and even supports Taiwan over China. Citizens from Palau serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and have paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of this Nation."

Faleomavaega reportedly said, "The offset issue has been the only delaying factor with respect to the legislation, which has continuously been supported by a broad cross-section of members of both houses and which no member has opposed. The Pentagon considers Palau ‘irreplaceable’ because it covers a strategic expanse of the Pacific as large as Texas. The free association right of the U.S. to deny access to other nations prevents China from using sea-lanes that it wants to develop its economy and increase its military projection in the region."

President Toribiong said in a statement to the media that Manzullo and Faleomavaega acted in the best interests of the United States as well as of Palau.

"The Compact Agreement will ensure that the essential needs of our people are met and will further enable our islands to become more self-reliant as a nation and as a close partner of the United States," Toribiong said.

In addition to Manzullo and Faleomavaega, United States Representatives Ed Royce (Republican-California), Steve Chabot (Republican-Ohio), Mike Kelly (Republican-Pennsylvania), Jeff Duncan (Republican-South Carolina), and Ben Chandler (Democrat-Kentucky) reportedly voiced support for the agreement yesterday.

The Compact Review Agreement will extend financial assistance to the Government of Palau in the amount of $250 million for public safety, health, and education, to build and maintain infrastructure, to pay debts, and to increase the Compact Trust Fund for the future. It would also continue United States health, education, airport, agriculture, employment, and other programs in Palau. The assistance would be provided until September 30, 2024.

In related news, a letter by Ambassador Koshiba to US Ambassador Helen Reed-Rowe regarding the status of the agreement draw mixed reactions from the public. While some showed support to Koshiba’s move, there are people who are also criticizing.

Some said Koshiba just expressed the disappointment of Palauans as the approval of the agreement has been delayed for almost two years now.

But some also condemned the tone of the letter, which reportedly seem to be giving the US, the country that tremendously helped Palau in various forms of assistance, an ultimatum to act on the agreement or Palau will side with China and the Arab states.

Below is the letter sent by Ambassador Koshiba to Ambassador Reed-Rowe on July 17.

Dear Madame Ambassador Reed-Rowe:

I write in my capacity as the Chairman of President Toribiong's Compact Review Advisory Group ("CRAG"). The CRAGhas asked me to contact you to lodge its strong complaint and disappointment at the decided lack of progress on the ratification of the Compact Review Agreement.

President Toribiong signed the Compact Review Agreement September 3, 2010, after the most senior United States officials urged that he do so to enable it to be approved by the last Congress of the United States. We were then surprised that it was not submitted until this Congress for approval, which resulted in it being subjected to new requirements in the U.S. House of Representatives for cost offsets.

For more than a year now, congressional committee leaders of both United

States political parties and of both houses of the Congress have advised United States Executive branch officials of their support for the Agreement. But they have also advised that the cost offsets the United States Executive branch has suggested are not viable for offsetting the cost of the Agreement. They have asked for alternatives or for talks to develop mutually acceptable alternatives. It is clear from their numerous letters that they have had no positive response from the United States Executive branch. We are now deeply disappointed to learn that United States Executive branch officials are objecting to the cost offsets proposed by 16 members of the House, without offering any viable alternatives or engaging in discussions for alternatives.

The people of Palau need to know more than 22 months after the Agreement was signed-and nearly two years into the intended term of the Agreement-whether the United States Executive branch is going to make a serious effort to have the Agreement approved by the United States Congress. Some important members of our community have suggested that Palau's needs may be more reliably met if Palau becomes more independent of the United States and provides China and the Arab states with what they want. The present administration of Palau does not favor this course. But the delay in obtaining ratification of the Agreement has caused the delay itself to become an election year political issue in Palau, thus endangering the Agreement. It is becoming increasingly hard for President Toribiong to justify continuing to wait for United States approval when the United States Executive branch appears to have done little more than object to congressional initiatives to enable approval. What offsets are used for the cost of the Agreement are the internal business of the United States.

Our only interest is that what is needed for approval of the Agreement be done. We do not doubt the sincerity of the United States Executive branch in favoring the Agreement that it requested be signed. We know that Executive branch officials have conveyed their strong support of the Agreement when congressional officials inquire. But this does not constitute a serious effort to obtain approval. Having spent so much time and money and having worked so hard to conclude an Agreement with the United States, the CRAG is concerned that the lack of a concerted and serious effort by the U.S. Executive branch may result in undoing all of the progress that we thought had been achieved. This is not an acceptable state of affairs.

We need to be advised whether the United States Executive branch will begin to seriously work with the United States Congress to obtain approval or whether we should chart a different course.

Sincerely yours,

/s/

Joshua Koshiba

Palau Ambassador & Chief Representative

Cc: President Johnson Toribiong

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