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Congress calls on the White House to take control of the Pacific Islands talks

A growing group of lawmakers are pushing the Biden government to take control of talks extending exclusive military access in three of the Pacific island states, a move seen as critical to control of China after discussions were partly about negotiations Decades-old nuclear weapons stalled are waste.

It is about the continued access of the Pentagon to base rights in the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau, where the United States has set up anti-missile defenses and is hoping to develop airfields. The long-term efforts to secure military access come from the fact that China has expanded its own bases not only in the South China Sea with airfields and military facilities, but also as far as Kiribati, an archipelago in the eastern Pacific south of Hawaii; In response, the United States attempted to challenge China's claim to sovereignty with repeated navigation freedoms.

In a letter sent to Kurt Campbell on Monday, the Reps called. Katie Porter and Raúl Grijalva, the US National Security Council's top Asian official, the appointment of a presidential envoy to lead talks hoping to renew agreements officially known as the Compacts of Free Association. State Department and Home Office officials who led the talks have blocked islanders on key issues, lawmakers wrote, including how to deal with radioactive waste spills in parts of the Marshall Islands, a relic of the Pentagon's first nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

A growing group of lawmakers are pushing the Biden government to take control of talks extending exclusive military access in three of the Pacific island states, a move seen as critical to control of China after discussions were partly about negotiations Decades-old nuclear weapons stalled are waste.

It is about the continued access of the Pentagon to base rights in the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau, where the United States has set up anti-missile defenses and is hoping to develop airfields. The long-term efforts to secure military access come from the fact that China has expanded its own bases not only in the South China Sea with airfields and military facilities, but also as far as Kiribati, an archipelago in the eastern Pacific south of Hawaii; In response, the United States attempted to challenge China's claim to sovereignty with repeated navigation freedoms.

In a letter sent to Kurt Campbell on Monday, the Reps called. Katie Porter and Raúl Grijalva, the US National Security Council's top Asian official, the appointment of a presidential envoy to lead talks hoping to renew agreements officially known as the Compacts of Free Association. State Department and Home Office officials who led the talks have blocked islanders on key issues, lawmakers wrote, including how to deal with radioactive waste spills in parts of the Marshall Islands, a relic of the Pentagon's first nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

"This approach reflected a broader lack of perspective trying to cut overall aid to the (Free Associated States) despite their growing geostrategic importance," Porter and Grijalva, both of them Member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, wrote to Campbell. "It failed to realize that the factor that makes the (freely associated states) strategically so – relatively remote and distant locations – creates economic challenges that require US aid."

Lawmakers and officials fear that failure to renew the agreements, which expire in late 2023 for Micronesia and the Marshall Islands and 2024 for Palau, could give China an edge to woo the Pacific island nations. The US has consistently refused to pay billions in damages ordered through a joint tribunal ruling from the US nuclear weapons test program in the Marshall Islands that caused extensive and ongoing harm public health and the environment.

"China is trying to undermine US relations with the (freely associated states), with potentially serious consequences for US national security and interests," wrote Porter and Grijalva. Both the Marshall Islands and Palau diplomatically recognize Taiwan and may face repeated pressures from China to change their minds, as well other smaller nations. One of the Marshall Islands' atolls, Rongelap, entered negotiations with China to become an independent country in 2019 before the central Marshall Islands government halted efforts.

Negotiations over the military bases by the State Department and the Department of the Interior have collapsed in recent months as officials in the region have become frustrated that the Compacts of Free Association, which provides the United States with defense and assistance to the "Freely Associated States," Afford.

Porter and Grijalva wrote that island negotiators were frustrated that deals proposed by U.S. officials would ignore previously announced plans to convert Micronesia and the Marshall Islands from aid to trust funds by 2023 fears that the money from the trust fund, which is supposed to strengthen self-sufficiency in the region, could run out quickly.

Both the Marshall Islands and Palau have requested a presidential negotiator, and Palau's newly elected President Surangel Whipps Jr. visited the White House this summer and expressed his anger over the negotiations at a dinner in Washington in August. "He has a strong feeling that the State Department is not taking it seriously enough," said a former US official who attended the dinner. That person said Whipps conveyed the same message to Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken and Home Secretary Deb Haaland.

A State Department spokesman said the United States has offered to renew the Compacts of Free Association agreements, which are still being discussed with each government. "The government of Biden-Harris is making these important negotiations a high priority in order to strengthen our partnerships with these three Pacific island states, "the spokesman said. "We continue to appreciate the views of our (freely associated government) colleagues and the Congress."

Since the end of the Trump administration, the US has claimed it only wanted to make minor changes to the pacts, the former US official said. But the expiry of the pacts could jeopardize the Pentagon's ability to continue using the islands and atolls as a critical counterweight to China. The Pacific Islands are already vital to US missile defense. The army base on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshalls is one of the top test sites for ballistic missiles and space operations. Palau is home to aerial, maritime and mobile radars over the horizon, and the Department of Defense is also keeping an eye on new airfields in the archipelago. US military officials I Agree to build a large new base in Micronesia during talks in Hawaii this summer, although it is not clear when or where this will happen.

The US's limited focus on the region and the mercenary approach could backfire if Beijing extends its line of defense beyond the first chain of islands towards the central Pacific. "It goes into China's narrative that we see the region only as a battleground for competing for great powers," said Craig Singleton, a Foundation for Defense of Democracies Associate China Fellow and former US diplomat.

China has also tried to use America's checkered nuclear heritage on the islands as a wedge problem. The United States conducted biological weapons tests and hundreds of tons of contaminated waste dumped in the Marshall Islands after the Pentagon detonated 67 nuclear weapons over the area between 1946 and 1958. Local officials say the United States did not account for the damage that caused radioactivity in some parts of the islands that is higher than in Chernobyl, the site of a notorious meltdown of Soviet nuclear reactors in 1986 Foreign policy that officials in the Marshall Islands have made it clear that they will not sign a new Compact of Freed Association contract without resolving the nuclear issue.

As the Compacts of Free Association expires nearer, China will seek to capitalize on the differences between the United States and the Pacific Islands; It has already tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to lease parts of the Solomon Islands and is trying to convert a large wharf on Vanuatu's largest island into a dual-use armed forces facility.

"China will be looking for a possible opening later this year," said Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at Rand Corporation.

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