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Federated States of Micronesia's president discusses delayed aid funds from Congress

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A Pacific island nation is hoping the United States keeps up its end of a bargain. The Federated States of Micronesia want Congress to keep up payments as part of a long-term security arrangement. And that payment, like so much else, is delayed by the broader dysfunction in the House of Representatives. This week, we called Federated States President Wesley Simina, whose nation consists of about 600 islands, nearly all of them tiny.

Is it fair to say there is far more water than land in the Federated States of Micronesia?

PRESIDENT WESLEY SIMINA: Yeah, that's a very fair statement. Yes, we can say - you can say that. We are mostly ocean.

INSKEEP: These Pacific islands are remote, yet attracted the interest of colonial powers for centuries. Spain once claimed them, and then Germany, and then Japan. And when Japan lost World War II, the United States took charge under a mandate from the United Nations. The Federated States eventually gained their independence, but signed what's called a compact of free association with the U.S.

SIMINA: We agreed that we will foreclose some of our powers, especially in the defense and security aspects, to the United States, in return for the United States to assist us economically.

INSKEEP: Do you mean to say that the United States directs your defense and security matters?

SIMINA: Yes, that's the reality of it. We gave the United States what we call a perpetual right to have access to our islands through its defense and military activities, and it can also deny third countries access and use of our territory.

INSKEEP: I think you're saying that if the United States needed a military base on one of your islands in its competition with China, for example, that the FSM would need to be open to that. And at the same time, if China came to you and said, we would like to set up a military base, the United States could veto that. Is that correct?

SIMINA: That is basically correct. Yes. We will allow us access and use of our territory or islands and oceans. But if a third country wanted to come in and use our islands for military purposes or any other security or defense type of purpose, the United States can deny that on our behalf.

INSKEEP: So this agreement - the one that Congress is due to fund, but has not yet - is part of the informal American empire in which the U.S. does not rule, but does keep watch over its interests and keeps out other powers. Lately, that includes the great power on the far side of the Pacific. President Simina says China has come calling.

SIMINA: We've been enjoying our relationship with China and our - especially our relationship with the U.S. We can understand the geopolitics that are going on, but our hope is to be a peacemaker that will be someone who can also help defuse things.

INSKEEP: And at the same time, I'm curious if China makes an effort to exert influence in your country.

SIMINA: If you're talking about military influence, no, they haven't done that. And in fact, we have made it clear to them that we have a clear agreement with the United States which governs our security and defense, that we have been very grateful to the PRC for their efforts in assisting us in other economic and social development programs and projects, and they've been very forthcoming on those.

INSKEEP: If I visited your country, what is a project I might see that is Chinese-funded?

SIMINA: Oh, you will see some public administration buildings. You will see some roads, docks, bridges - you know, those kind of projects that the U.S. didn't see fit to finance.

INSKEEP: Mr. President, how much, if at all, do you worry about getting caught up in the conflicts of your part of the world?

SIMINA: We are definitely worried, if you have to ask me. And that's because, you know, being a small country in the middle of this region where all these rivalries are going on, we're worried that things can get out of control. But at the same time, we're very thankful that we've seen the leaders of those giants, U.S. and China, getting together, meeting. We hope that those kind of dialogues will continue so that peace will prevail in our region.

INSKEEP: Mr. President, it's been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

SIMINA: Well, thank you so much for this opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.