Palau makes US a military offer it shouldn’t refuse

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Originally published by Asia Times

Palau’s request to the US is simple: ‘build joint-use facilities, then come use them regularly’

US President Donald Trump has made a hash of relationships with America’s allies and partners. Or so say the parts of the US foreign policy community for whom Trump is Lucifer in human form.

But Tommy Remengesau, president of the Western Pacific island nation of Palau, appears not to have gotten the word. When US Defense Secretary Mike Esper visited in August this year, Remengesau asked Esper to set up bases in Palau and to use them.

And he reportedly put the offer in writing in a hand-delivered letter: “Palau’s request to the US military remains simple – build joint-use facilities, then come and use them regularly.”

The president’s letter laid out a few mutually beneficial possibilities: “Some of Palau’s chief infrastructure needs, including port facilities, secondary airfields, law enforcement training grounds and maritime enforcement and surveillance facilities, are also opportunities to strengthen US military readiness.”

President Remengesau reportedly reiterated the offer when US Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite visited Palau in mid-October.

Palau is small, with only 20,000 citizens in the island group. But it has what real estate agents value most: location, location, location – about 950 miles east of the Philippines and, with a little work, excellent ports and airfields.

Palau maintains a so-called Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the US. In exchange for providing financial and economic aid and the right of Palau citizens to live and work in America, the US covers Palau’s security and gets military access and a veto on foreign militaries operating in its territory.

But Remengesau noted correctly in his letter that “The US military’s right to establish defense sites in the Republic of Palau has been under-utilized for the entire duration of the compact.”

The same can be said about the Pentagon’s approach to the entire Central Pacific and the other two COFA states: Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The US has responded favorably to Remengesau’s offer but a Pentagon spokesman’s recent comment raises a few worries.  He remarked that the Department of Defense’s “focus is on access to places from which to operate, not necessarily new permanent bases.”

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