1 Apr 2003

Marshalls hopes for the Compact signing this month

4:27 pm on 1 April 2003

Marshall Islands officials say they believe that four years of negotiations on a new funding package with the United States will be wrapped up and ready for signing by mid-April.

Marshall Islands Foreign minister Gerald Zackios and Compact of Free Association negotiator Robert Muller are in Washington DC this week for what they hope is a final round of face-to-face talks with US officials.

The talks will involve outstanding immigration and labour issues.

Mr Muller says he hopes to return to Majuro with the whole package that may lead to its final signing sometime in April.

The Compact as currently drafted will provide the Marshalls close to 1 billion US dollars over the next 20 years in grants to the Government and contributions to a trust fund.

Revenue from that fund is expected to take the place of direct American aid after 2023.

Separately the US is offering to pay about two point three billion dollars giving it access to the Kwajalein missile testing range for a 60 year period.

In early March the US demanded a series of amendments to the Compact's immigration rules, despite those rules not being among expiring provisions.

The Marshalls have strongly objected to any changes to the provisions which allow visa free access for Marshall Islanders to the US.

Mr Muller says the Marshalls has offered to work separately with the US on the immigration issues.