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 economics agreements between the two nations, following the arrival of U.S. and RMI team members at Bucholz Army Airfield Tuesday, June 14, 2022.
U.S. Ambassador to the RMI Roxanne Cabral and USAG-KA Commander Col. Tom Pugsley welcomed U.S. Special Presidential Envoy Ambassador and negotiations team leader Joseph Yun. Traveling with Yun were members of the U.S. delegation representing the Department of the Interior, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the U.S. 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. The visitors underwent a routine health screening at BAAF before being isolated at the Kwaj Lodge, an island facility utilized for repatriation.
After months of delays protracted by COVID-19 protocols and subsequent health and travel restrictions, the delegations had their first meeting at the Kwajalein High School Davye Davis Multi-Purpose Room that same afternoon.
Following introductions, RMI delegation chief negotiator and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kitlang Kabua, greeted the U.S. delegation members with special welcome gifts. The traditionally handcrafted items were laid at U.S. place settings. Due to the strict rules of the meeting, the gifts could not be presented in person, as is customary.
During the three days of discussions, both teams explored topics of mutual interest before adjournment. Dates for the second round of talks will be announced in the future.
Hosting the negotiations was made possible on USAG-KA through the execution of a strict “travel bubble” and adherence to the garrison’s active quarantine protocols. Additional preparations in the meeting area allowed the two groups to interact safely. The conference-style arrangement utilized airy gaps between delegations seating areas to accommodate social distancing and included “breakout” discussion areas separated by acrylic shields.
Since RMI travel restrictions were instituted in 2020, similar “bubble” operations have been utilized to safely accommodate the movements of search and rescue teams and Criminal Investigation Division activities.
During the meetings, the entire school was cordoned off to the local community and specially provisioned with personal protective equipment until proceedings adjourned June 16. Following decontamination, the facility will be accessible but will remain closed until the beginning of the schoolyear.
Minister Kabua joined the RMI COFA negotiation team in 2020. She has previously served the RMI government as the Minister of Sports, Education and Training, and was elected to the Nitijela, the Marshallese legislature, in 2019.
Ambassador Yun, whose former diplomatic assignments include ambassadorial duty in Malaysia, has worked for more than 33 years in the U.S. foreign service. Highlights in his career include service as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and as the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy. Yun was named as the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Compact Negotiations by U.S. President Joe Biden in March.
The COFA was signed into federal law following official adoption by the U.S. Congress in October 1986 and last renewed in 2003. In recent years, the agreement has been addressed in discussions of Marshallese healthcare, education and land utilization. Its provisions include Marshallese access to U.S. domestic 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, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken described the U.S. relationship with Indo-Pacific compact nations as “special and longstanding.”
“The Compacts reflect the close relationships between the United States and the Freely Associated States and are a critical 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 and open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.”