KOROR (The Guam Daily Post) â€” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel assured Palau that the U.S. continues to consider Palau a strong ally and stressed that its relationship with pacific island nations is a priority.
â€œAmericaâ€™s sustained engagement, our investment in the Pacific is part of our broader Pacific rebalance, it is one priority everybody in Washington agreed on,â€ Russel said in his address before the Olbiil Era Kelulau, Palauâ€™s National Congress.
Russel addressed members of the OEK on Friday after holding bilateral talks with President Tommy Remengesau Jr. on Feb. 24.
Palau brought up the issue of its Compact financial package, which remains pending in the U.S. Congress.
Remengesau earlier expressed frustration at the failure of the U.S. Congress to pass the measure that allots $250 million for Palau over the next 15 years. The Compact agreement was approved in 2010, but the economic package approval remains in Congress.
In his address before the OEK, Russel said he understands Palauans are frustrated that the U.S. Congress hasnâ€™t passed the economic package.
â€œWe are working hard for the Compact review funds. We know that the delay has placed a real burden on Palau, and the delay makes it difficult to set budget, make longer-term plans,â€ he said.
â€œAll the agencies that work with Palau, from the White House, Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of the Interior, we are all pressing Congress on the funding issue and we will not give up,â€ Russel said.
Palau House Speaker Sabino Anastacio in his remarks also expressed dissatisfaction over the U.S.â€™s â€œinadequate assistance under the Compact.
â€œThe U.S. has shown only limited support for commercial investment in Palau. Meanwhile, the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China has significantly increased its investment in Palau, so much so, in fact, that it far exceeds American involvement in our local economy,â€ Anastacio said.
One of the pressing issues in Palau is the growing number of Chinese tourists and investments, which worry several sectors as the growth is squeezing out other tourism markets and overtaking the Palauan economy.
But Russel in his address said the U.S. will fulfill its commitment to Palau.
â€œPalau and Americaâ€™s relationship is built on equal partnership, on shared prosperity, environmental preservation, climate protection and steadfast perseverance. Our partnership in that under the Compact is rock solid,â€ he added.
Russel assured Palau that the U.S. will continue to be strongly involved in Palauâ€™s economy. He also added that the U.S. will ensure the countryâ€™s security and protect the island nation.
â€œThe U.S.-Palau relationship is secure. We are determined to do more. We are proud to be Palauâ€™s friend and partner,â€ he said.
He said the U.S. lauds Palauâ€™s commitment to combat climate change and illegal fishing. Russel also highlighted the island nationâ€™s creation of a Palau National Marine Sanctuary, which will set aside 80 percent of the nationâ€™s maritime territory as a reserve.
He noted that one issue that the Obama administration shares with Palau is to aim for a cleaner environment and fight illegal fishing.
â€œWe donâ€™t think of Palau as a small island nation. It is recognized as large ocean of country, we share Palauâ€™s leadership and vision in protecting in the ocean,â€ he said.
According to a press statement from Russelâ€™s office,â€ this high-level trip demonstrates the United Statesâ€™ enduring commitment to the Pacific Islands region and the whole-of-government approach to enhancing bilateral political, economic and security relations in the Pacific. The trip also underscores continued U.S. support of the issues that are of utmost importance to pacific islands, including climate change, the ocean, maritime security, womenâ€™s empowerment, sustainable development and health.
While in Palau, Russel also visited Civil Action Team projects, an elementary school, toured the Marine law facility and Palauâ€™s lone patrol boat, the P.S.S. Remiliik.