Remarks to Olbil Era Kelulau (National Congress) of Palau

Daniel R. Russel
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
February 25, 2016

Good morning! Ungil Tutau!

Thank you for the introduction and the invitation to speak. I’m honored to address the Olbil Era Kelulau. Thank you, Senate President Chin, House Speaker Anastacio, President Remengesau, High Chiefs, Chief Justice, Members of the Congress, distinguished guests, people of Palau.

I’d also like to introduce my colleagues: Navy Admiral Scott Swift, whose responsibilities reach from America’s West Coast to the Indian Ocean; and Coast Guard Admiral Vince Atkins, who covers most of the Pacific. With me also is my Deputy Matt Matthews.

Our Ambassador, Amy Hyatt, is here, and I'll say something that you already know: that in Amy, you have one of our best – a talented diplomat with deep experience in the Pacific.

Thank you for the warm and friendly welcome. And I can’t emphasize warm enough. I think it’s below zero back in Washington.

It's clear why Palau is such a successful tourist destination. But we’re not here for the weather.

We’re here for the same reason that Secretary Kerry visited the Solomons last year; the same reason that we’ve worked with and supported Palau for decades, and the reason we maintain close ties with so many island nations, including Samoa and Tonga, which the Admirals and I just visited.

The reason is simple: we’re all members of the Pacific family.

It’s a bond – strengthened in times of war, nurtured in times of peace, and based on a shared sense of what we want our countries to be – societies that promote equality, opportunity, where people choose their leaders, respect the rule of law, care for our planet and preserve it for future generations.

I’m grateful to President Remengesau for inviting me to visit Palau, and glad to be back here, because as strong as the foundation of our relationship is, we still need good communication to make sure we’re on the right course.

I first visited Palau 25 years ago, as a junior officer, when I was on my way back from Asia to begin an assignment at our mission to the United Nations in New York where my responsibilities included the Trusteeship Council. There have been enormous changes in Palau in the intervening years.

Today, we have the privilege of working with Palau at the U.N. as a full member state. Today, we engage as friends and partners on a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues -- issues that I’ve had a chance to discuss with President Remengesau and other Palauans during this visit.

And as a result of these conversations, I come away with an even greater appreciation for the bond we share, and for the challenges we’re working together to address.

Simply put, the Palau-America relationship is built on equal partnership, shared prosperity, environmental preservation, climate protection, and steadfast perseverance. I’ll speak to each.

First things first – our partnership under the Compact of Free Association is rock-solid. America’s commitment to the development and self-determination of the people of Palau will always endure – because it’s built on common history and values.

As part of this long-term commitment, we’re working hard to get the Compact Review Agreement funded. I know the delay has been very burdensome for you as you seek to set budgets and make plans.

I won’t sugar-coat what’s going on in my Congress. I'm not giving away any secrets when I tell you that members of the U.S. Congress disagree a lot. But all the agencies that work with you, from the White House to the Departments of State to Defense to Interior, are pressing Congress again on funding.

We won’t give up. And I’m hopeful, because despite the political rancor on the mainland, America's sustained engagement in the Asia-Pacific is one priority that most everyone seems to agree on. Our Asia-Pacific policy is bipartisan. President Obama made this very clear last week in California when he met at Sunnylands with the leaders of ASEAN.

There's another issue that I know is on your mind. For as long as there has been a Palau, there has been a fishing industry here. And for the last 28 years, we’ve had a Tuna Treaty with you and many of your neighbors, designed to support our economies while preserving the fishing stocks that sustain life.

While the Treaty worked well initially, it has been clear for years that the old system needed updating. We’ve worked together on this in good faith, but as the market has continued to change, the terms offered in negotiations worsened, and the price of tuna dropped. We reached a point where the U.S. fishing industry could no longer operate viably under the current system.

So to continue our work to develop a better system, we gave notice that we may withdraw from the Treaty. That gives us a year to figure out how we move forward before a withdrawal would take effect. A year to see if we can restructure the Treaty for the long term in a way that works for everyone, or if different arrangements might be better.

Change can be hard, but I’m confident we’ll work out a solution. We are heartened by the constructive response we received from the Pacific Island parties earlier this month on terms for 2016.

In the meantime, we’ll continue working hard with all stakeholders to implement a solution that allows vessels to make payments and resume fishing as soon as possible.

But the economic arrangements of one industry are only a small part of what bonds us. Our Compact supports Palau’s growth and wellbeing in a variety of ways. We will fulfill our commitments to you.

It’s a matter of honor. We’re committed to your security and we will protect you, just as many brave Palauans have served in the U.S. Armed Forces to protect all of us.

That includes retired Lieutenant Colonel Chin, Paramount Chiefs Reklai and Ibedul and others here today. I thank each of you for your service. Thanks to all Palauans who serve and sacrifice alongside us.

Under President Obama’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, we are strengthening ties with allies and friendslike Palau, as I can attest. We’re moving more of our military to the region, as Admiral Swift can attest. And we're dedicating more resources to programs like law enforcement cooperation, as Rear Admiral Atkins can attest.

As our presence in the region grows, as the center of the world’s economy shifts toward the Pacific, and as countries from here to Southeast Asia ask us to maintain regional security, our relationship will only grow stronger.

The U.S.-Palau partnership is secure.

But we're doing more. Take the issue of shared prosperity. Americans will continue to do business and visit here. We’ll continue hiring talented Palauans. And 13 different federal Departments and agencies will continue to provide assistance in such areas as economic development, health, education, disaster relief, climate change, security, and infrastructure.

The United States government provided over $44 million in support to Palau in 2014, and a similar amount last year. Most importantly our relationship is forward-looking, including recent U.S.-funded workshops in the region on subjects like renewable energy, trade and investment, and sustainable seafood business development.

A Fish 2.0 workshop in Pohnpei, for instance, included two women business leaders from Palau. They learned how to grow their businesses and made connections with entrepreneurs across the region, which can help them grow even more.

We’re staying attentive to all the regular services Palauans have historically enjoyed under the Compact, services that make the economy run and support daily life – from mail delivery, to airport infrastructure, to Head Start and Special Education programs in schools, to health programs Palauans depend on.

Then there is environmental preservation. That includes our work together on marine conservation and combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated, or IUU, fishing.

I’m always happy when our work in the Asia-Pacific region is covered by America’s major newspapers. Especially when they do in-depth pieces that look beyond the latest provocation from North Korea. So I hope you saw, just last week, the New York Times reported on Palau’s leadership in marine conservation.

We applaud the strong action of the OEK and President Remengesau in passing the Marine Sanctuary Act, which protects 80% of your exclusive economic zone from commercial fishing. This is an incredible gift to future generations, and an example to the region and the world.

Of course, we all know the challenge you face, with an EEZ the size of France and limited law enforcement resources. So our partnership with Palau to combat IUU fishing makes a real difference. Billions of dollars worth of fish are taken unlawfully from the Western Pacific. That's a crime. And it means lost licensing revenue for Palau.

Protecting maritime resources is a priority for President Obama and Secretary Kerry. That’s why the President stood up a Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud. It issued an Action Plan last year, which we’re working to implement.

The first action in the plan was passing legislation for the Port State Measures Agreement, and we got that done. The President has signed the Agreement and we’re preparing to deposit our ratification. We commend Palau for getting there first, but we look forward to joining soon.

Under the Agreement, member countries work to ensure that foreign vessels do not land or transship IUU seafood in their ports, thus preventing such seafood products from entering markets.

But since the agreement doesn’t take effect until 25 members sign up, we hope you’ll join us in encouraging your Pacific island neighbors, and others, to join quickly. Our goal is to bring the Agreement into force by the next Our Ocean Conference in Washington this September.

Preserving Palau’s maritime environment and tackling IUU fishing also requires maritime domain awareness, or MDA, and law enforcement capabilities.

Through our close, regular consultations which include the Federated States of Micronesia, we’re developing and executing a strategy to enhance MDA. Together we’ve tested out systems, like the radar-based Sea Dragon and satellite-based Dudek, which have helped locate potentially illegal fishing boats.

And to improve law enforcement, we’re continuing successful programs like the ship-rider agreement that enables Palauan officials to conduct maritime law enforcement operations from U.S. Coast Guard and Naval vessels. In just a few months the USS Spruance will visit with a Palauan ship ride to support your EEZ enforcement efforts. Talk about a force multiplier for Palau!

We're including Palau in this year's Pacific Partnership program and also starting new programs like Sea Scout that will help maximize the effectiveness of all our vessels, by harnessing technology and strengthening regional and global cooperation. We appreciate Palau’s early interest in that new program.

We’re also focused on dealing with the effects of climate change and natural disasters. In this, the U.S. Agency for International Development works closely with Palau’s National Emergency Management Office.

We’re planning to send U.S. Forest Service trainers in June to provide advanced training on how to manage disaster response as part of a multi-year program. We’re monitoring El Niño with you, and will be ready to assist when needed.

And both USAID and the U.S. Military were there for you after Typhoon Haiyan.

But responding to disasters isn’t enough – we also have to address the causes of climate change. As you know, President Obama and Secretary Kerry recognize this as an existential threat to your home, and to all of us, and addressing it is one of their highest priorities.

In the last five years, the U.S. has allocated $413 million to help Small Island Developing States combat climate change. This includes the Pacific American Climate Fund, which provides grants to non-governmental and private sector organizations throughout the Pacific.

It includes NOAA support to build your capacity to understand, forecast, and use climate information to strengthen climate resilience; and funded a climate change advisor position in the Palau Government for two years, who is helping Palau develop and implement climate change strategies.

Since 2010, the United States has pledged more than $3.5 billion to multilateral climate funds, including the new Green Climate Fund (GCF), which has a particular focus on adaptation assistance for small islands.

And Secretary Kerry announced in Paris that the US intends to double its grant-based, public climate finance for adaptation by 2020.

We were very pleased to work with Palau and other friends in the Pacific to help reach the Paris Agreement. The agreement is ambitious, it’s fair, it’s durable, and it signals that the world is committed to addressing one of the central challenges of our time.

The next step is for our countries, and all countries, to sign the Paris Agreement. Let's both plan to sign up on the first day, April 22nd!

Another vital step on climate for 2016 is adopting an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase out hydro-fluorocarbons. That step could avert a half-degree of warming by the end of century. I encourage you to be even more vocal in your support for an amendment this year.

Last but not least are the strong people-to-people bonds that link our two nations. The Peace Corps program is back in Palau, continuing a relationship that began 50 years ago. Perhaps no program better captures our friendship. It symbolizes America’s determination to help other countries no matter what other challenges we each face. We applaud the Government of Palau for contributing funding for this great program.

This friendship between us is continually refreshed by the Palauans who come to live, work, and study in the United States. We welcome and celebrate your contributions to America’s diversity.

Here's the bottom line. We don't think of Palau as a small island nation -- We recognize that you are a large ocean country. Palau’s leadership and vision in protecting the ocean we share, and its resources, are recognized around the world.

The United States is proud to be your partner and friend. Thank you for letting me speak with you today.