DVIDS – News – US Delegations and RMI Begin Negotiations for Kwajalein Atoll Agreement

Delegations from the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands safely completed the first round of negotiations for the Compact of Free Association, a set of provisions governing financial, defense and economic agreements between the two nations, after the arrival of U.S. team and RMI members at Bucholz Army Airfield on Tuesday, June 14, 2022.

US Ambassador to the IRM Roxanne Cabral and USAG-KA Commander Col. Tom Pugsley hosted Ambassador Special Envoy of the US President and Chief of the Negotiating Team Joseph Yun. Traveling with Yun were members of the US delegation representing the Department of the Interior, the US Indo-Pacific Command and the US State Department.

All team members tested negative for COVID-19 upon arrival and remained isolated from the USAG-KA community during their visit for community health and safety. Visitors underwent a routine medical screening at BAAF before being isolated at Kwaj Lodge, an island facility used for repatriation.

After months of delays extended by COVID-19 protocols and ensuing health and travel restrictions, the delegations had their first meeting at Kwajalein High School’s Davye Davis Multipurpose Hall the same afternoon.

After the introductions, the RMI delegation’s chief negotiator and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Kitlang Kabua, greeted the members of the US delegation with special welcome gifts. Traditionally handcrafted items were laid in American cutlery. Due to the strict rules of the meeting, the gifts could not be delivered in person, as is the custom.

During the three days of discussions, the two teams explored topics of common interest before the adjournment. The dates for the second round of talks will be announced later.

Hosting negotiations was made possible on USAG-KA through the execution of a strict “travel bubble” and adherence to active garrison quarantine protocols. Additional preparations in the meeting area allowed the two groups to interact safely. The conference-style arrangement used airy spaces between delegation seats to accommodate social distancing and included “breakout” discussion areas separated by acrylic screens.

Since RMI travel restrictions were instituted in 2020, similar “bubble” operations have been used to safely accommodate the movements of search and rescue teams and the activities of the Criminal Investigations Division.

During the meetings, the entire school was cordoned off from the local community and specially provided with personal protective equipment until the proceedings adjourned on June 16. Following decontamination, the establishment will be accessible but will remain closed until the start of the school year.

Minister Kabua joined the RMI COFA negotiating team in 2020. She previously served the RMI government as Minister of Sports, Education and Training, and was elected to the Nitijela, the Marshallese legislature, in 2019.

Ambassador Yun, whose former diplomatic assignments included serving as Ambassador to Malaysia, served more than 33 years in the US Foreign Service. Some of his career highlights include service as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the Department of State and as United States Special Representative for North Korean politics. Yun was appointed special envoy to the US president for the pact negotiations by US President Joe Biden in March.

COFA was signed into federal law after it was formally passed by the U.S. Congress in October 1986 and last renewed in 2003. In recent years, the agreement has come up in discussions about health care, the education and marshal land use. Its provisions include Marshallese access to U.S. national programs and other citizen services, disaster management assistance resources, and continued use of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.

In a March press release, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken described the United States’ relationship with the compact Indo-Pacific nations as “special and longstanding.”

“The compacts reflect the close relationship between the United States and the freely associated states and are an essential source of regional security, stability, and prosperity. Through these negotiations, we will strengthen our enduring partnerships with our close Pacific island partners and ensure a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

Date taken: 18.06.2022
Date posted: 18.06.2022 02:23
Story ID: 423326
Location: MH

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