The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 20, 2019
** BACKGROUND PRESS CALL
BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
ON THE VISIT OF THE LEADERS OF THE FREELY ASSOCIATED STATES
** 5:01 P.M. EDT
PRESS OFFICER: Thank you everybody for joining. If there’s any follow up or other questions after the call is over, you can feel free to reach out to us at the distro or to me personally. I’m happy to try to respond to that.
So we have today, with us [senior administration officials] here to do kind of a background call -- a quick background call on the President’s meetings with the leaders of the Freely Associated States tomorrow. This will be on background, attributed to senior administration officials.
Time is really short for this, so we’ll have a few initial remarks, and then just two questions after that. So if you’re interested in a question, please get it in now. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks. So the meeting tomorrow, on Tuesday, with President Trump and the Presidents of the Republic of the Marshall Islands -- that's Hilda Heine; and the Federated States of Micronesia -- that’s newly elected leader David Panuelo; and also Palau -- that’s Tommy Remengesau -- is actually a historic meeting because it’s the first time that a President of the United States has hosted the three Freely Associated States’ Presidents together at the White House.
So President Trump has been directing an unprecedented level of focus on the Pacific Islands, in recognition of the fact that the United States is a Pacific nation, with immutable strategic, economic, cultural and people-to-people links in the islands.
This new focus is also evidenced by the high-level visits by American officials to the region, starting with then-Interior Secretary Zinke at the Pacific Islands Forum in 2018. That was followed up by Vice President Pence’s visit to Papua New Guinea to attend the APEC Forum in November of last year. Assistant Secretary of Defense Randy Shriver, in December of 2018. Patrick Murphy, at the State Department, visited earlier this year. And I also made a trip to the region to visit the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu in March of this year.
So we’ll be sending additional senior delegations to the region, including at the Cabinet level, to Pacific Island states in the coming months.
So with the Freely Associated States, whose leaders will be visiting tomorrow, we have a unique and special partnership with them based on our shared sacrifice in World War II and following the war. We have compacts of free association with those countries that are unlike any other documents between sovereign states. The compacts allow for the United States to provide for the security of the Freely Associated States and it also allows the United States unrestricted access to their airspace and waters for defense purposes, and also gives the U.S. the ability to deny access to any other country to those waters.
So the Freely Associated States citizens serve in the U.S. military and among the highest rates of any U.S. state or territory. They've got several hundreds currently on active duty in the U.S. military who hail from the Freely Associated States. You have 12 citizens of those states who have died in service to our country in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
And so, President Trump is looking forward to discussing our shared security concerns, including countering the illegal and unregulated and unreported fishing; dealing with transnational crime and trafficking; and also working on the protection of all nations' sovereignty as part of the free and open Indo-Pacific.
We look forward to continuing our assistance to the Freely Associated States and all Pacific Islands in strengthening their resilience against natural disasters, rising sea levels, soil erosion, invasive species, and other threats.
So with that, why don't I pause just for a quick couple of questions. And I apologize that the time is short today. We had to shoehorn this in between a couple of key meetings here, including one prepping for this visit.
Q Hey, it's Steve Holland with Reuters. To what extent will China come up in these conversations?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, hi, Steve. You know, it remains to be seen how much the countries want to raise that issue. I don't think that's really the purpose of these meetings. It's to talk about our interests in the region, to help these countries understand what the United States is doing to fulfill our longstanding relationship and obligations under our compacts. It's an opportunity for the President to reassert the importance of the region to our prosperity and to our security as well.
So, I don't see that being much of a topic.
Q Hi, this is Ben Kesling with the Wall Street Journal. I got a question about the renegotiation of the compacts that are about to expire in 2023. Will that be discussed at all with the President? And is there anything that the U.S. feels like it must get in those negotiations?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, Ben, thanks for the question. As you're well aware, we are currently funded for the compacts. We were able to get through, last year, the legislation that ensured that we were meeting our obligations under those compacts. And we've got a few years ahead before current obligations, or rather, compacts expire.
So there's time to delve into the details of the compacts and what we'll be doing moving forward. But I don’t expect that that will be a major topic of conversation tomorrow, although certainly fine if it does come up.
Okay, thanks very much for the questions, folks. And talk soon. Thank you.
END 5:08 P.M. EDT