White House Official: U.S. President directing an unprecedented focus on the Pacific

(From left to right) Palau President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., FSM President David W. Panuelo, and Marshall Islands President Hilda C. Heine.

Prior to the meeting of the three presidents of the Freely Associated States (FAS) at the White House, administration officials said President Donald J. Trump has been directing an unprecedented level of focus on the Pacific Islands.

Officials said this is in recognition of the fact that the U.S. is a Pacific nation with immutable strategic, economic, cultural and people-to-people links in the islands.

Tuesday’s meeting marks a historical first in FAS and U.S. relations. This is the first time for the White House to host all three island nations in one meeting.

According to earlier reports, Palau President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., Marshall Islands President Hilda C. Heine, and Federated States of Micronesia President David W. Panuelo will meet with the U.S. president to discuss the security ties between the U.S. and the FAS.

During a teleconference held Monday, senior administration officials said the President’s 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. In the coming months, the official said the administration plans to send additional senior delegations to the region, including at the Cabinet level, to the Pacific Island nations in the coming months.

“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,” the official said during the teleconference.

The administration officials said they also look forward to continuing 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.

COFA and China

With the Compact of Free Association (COFA) up for renewal in 2023, administration officials said there’s time to look at the details of the Compact.

Senior administration officials said China will not be a priority in the conversation.

“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,” the official said.