Big week for Majuro

Interior Assistant Secretary Carmen Cantor, right, met with Speaker Kenneth Kedi Tuesday. With her is US Ambassador Roxanne Cabral and State Department’s Pacific Bureau Director Taylor Ruggles. Photo: Hilary Hosia.

GIFF JOHNSON

Two senior US government officials are — or will be — in Majuro for high-level talks with RMI authorities this week. Wednesday’s first in-person JEMFAC meeting in three years is to be followed by one or more days of Compact negotiations late this week with the arrival Thursday of the chief US negotiator.

While buoyed by the US Pacific Islands declaration from the White House in September, major issues loom large over the Compact talks — as well as at JEMFAC, where the Cabinet has made a last minute pitch to change directions on Compact funding in the last year of the funding agreement.

As the RMI prepares to head into the third session of Compact talks this week, seven Nitijela Members, led by former President Hilda Heine, sent a two-page letter to President Kabua Wednesday this week raising serious concern about the Compact negotiation process being rushed. They said this is not in the best interests of the Marshall Islands. “On substance, the Compact must address the legacy of nuclear testing, first and foremost,” said the group of Nitijela Members. “It must also cover the basics of our economic, health, and education needs, including the special needs of our Kwajalein community. But most of all, it must have an ambitious component to cover our climate change adaptation needs.”

Although the US Pacific Islands declaration stated the US commitment to address the nuclear legacy, it remains to be seen how this plays out in the give-and-take of the Compact talks.

In May, President Kabua in a letter to President Biden called on the US President to work with the RMI on a “dignified solution to the nuclear legacy,” as well as to address a variety of Compact issues. In his response to Kabua, Biden mirrored the RMI President’s language when he said “Special Presidential Envoy Yun has my full trust and authority and I know he will help guide these critical Compact negotiations in a fair and dignified manner.” The presidents set a framework for the talks and the rest is up to the two sides to deliver on a “fair and dignified” result.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of Interior Carmen Cantor arrived Tuesday this week for her first visit since being appointed to her top Interior Department position by President Joe Biden. She is the US government’s former ambassador to the FSM.

Cantor, who was here to chair a JEMFAC budget meeting with RMI leaders on Wednesday, made courtesy calls on President David Kabua and Speaker Kenneth Kedi Tuesday soon after touching down in Majuro.

The RMI Cabinet is seeking to get JEMFAC approval to reprogram $17 million in funding that is currently reserved for building urgently needed new hospital facilities. The new idea for using hospital funds to solve problems at the Majuro power plant was first floated last month.

Cantor was also expected to tour Majuro hospital during her visit. She was expected to depart Thursday for the FSMto the US.

On Thursday, US Ambassador Joseph Yun, the Biden administration’s chief negotiator for Compact talks, is scheduled to arrive in Majuro for his first visit to the capital. He spent several days at Kwajalein in June for the first round of Compact talks that were conducted while the border was still closed. Yun is scheduled to make courtesy calls on the President and Speaker after his arrival Thursday.

The third round of talks may start Friday, although details were not immediately available.

The RMI Compact Negotiation Committee was meeting Wednesday afternoon in preparation for talks with Yun later in the week.

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