US confident of reaching strategic deal with Marshall Islands, official says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration is confident of reaching a strategic deal with the Marshall Islands, the State Department’s top East Asia and Pacific official told Congress on Tuesday.

Last week, the Pacific nation’s foreign secretary called for more American money to deal with the legacy of massive US nuclear testing to allow his country to expand a Covenant of Free Association (COFA ) with Washington governing bilateral relations.

Deputy Secretary Daniel Kritenbrink told a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the administration was “absolutely committed” to reaching an agreement with the Marshall Islands, calling the agreements “central to any our position in the Pacific”.

“Each of our partners, sovereign partners, in the Pacific has their own needs, their own desires, their own politics,” Kritenbrink said, declining to elaborate on the negotiations. “We’re working on it right now, but I’m confident we’ll get there.”

The Marshall Islands is one of three Pacific island nations covered by COFAs, under which the United States is responsible for its defense and provides economic assistance, while gaining exclusive access to huge strategic swathes of the Pacific. .

In May, the United States said it had finalized COFA terms with Micronesia and Palau, but talks with the Marshall Islands have yet to result in an agreement.

The renewed agreements, which are subject to congressional approval, have become a key part of US efforts to fend off China’s attempt to expand its regional influence.

Under memorandums of understanding reached this year, the United States will commit a total of $7.1 billion over 20 years to the three nations.

Residents of the Marshall Islands are still plagued by the health and environmental effects of 67 US nuclear bomb tests from 1946 to 1958, including “Castle Bravo” on Bikini Atoll in 1954 – the largest US bomb ever exploded.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis and David Brunnstrom; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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