The United States hopes to reach agreement on "top line" numbers for assistance to three Pacific island countries by the year's end, a State Department official told Reuters, part of negotiations critical to shoring up US strategic interests in a region courted by China.
The Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Palau are sovereign nations that agreed Compacts of Free Association, or COFAs, in the 1980s, under which the United States retained responsibility for their defence and exclusive access to huge swaths of the Pacific.
COFA provisions will expire in 2023 for the Marshall Islands and FSM, and in 2024 for Palau and though the island nations still enjoy close ties to Washington, critics warn that a failure to reach new terms for economic aid could spur them to look to China for funding or increased trade and tourism.
The nations have complained that assistance has not kept pace with US obligations but President Joe Biden's administration pledged at a summit in September to try to reach agreements by year end.
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