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As part of his continuing high-level engagements in Washington to best represent the interests of the citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), President David W. Panuelo met with multiple lawmakers of the United States Congress on Capitol Hill today.
In his first meeting with Congressman Rob Bishop, (R-UT), ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, the President emphasised the importance of the unique relationship between the FSM and the United States of America, and, more urgently, the need to actively move forward with plans to address the expiring provisions of the Compact of Free Association, as Amended, between the FSM and the U.S.
The Congressman thanked the President for his visit, and briefly discussed how strategically important the FSM and neighboring countries are to the security and stability of the Pacific region, the U.S., and its allies.
He acknowledged the many challenges and shifting dynamics within the Region, but despite all of that, our collective priority needs to be “to get the Treaty done, the sooner the better.”
Amongst some other items discussed during the brief meeting, the Congressman’s assertions regarding the Treaty clearly resonated, and was very well received by President Panuelo.
The President then paid a courtesy visit on Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Chairwoman Murkowski has been a long-time supporter and advocate for FSM’s interests in the United States Congress.
President Panuelo used the opportunity to express the appreciation of the people of FSM for her advocacy and continuing support.
The Chairwoman thanked the President for his visit and was quick to point out common challenges that face both the FSM and her home state of Alaska; among them, she stressed remoteness, a widely spread and culturally diverse population with unique needs, access to adequate health care services, and transportation infrastructure challenges.
Their discussion also included FSM Veterans’ issues, a topic near and dear to Chairwoman Murkowski’s heart as she is one of the co-sponsors of the COFA Veterans Review Act. The Act would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a pilot programme that provides hospital care and medical services to veterans living in the three Freely Associated States (FAS) nations of Micronesia – FSM, Marshall Islands and Palau.
Chairwoman Murkowski said anyone who answers the call to duty, and is willing to serve in the armed forces, should be accorded the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits available to all veterans, regardless of where they live. The President extended his sincere thanks on behalf of FSM veterans, and informed the Senator that he had written a letter to her and Senator Brian Schatz, who is the other co-sponsor of the bill, expressing his support of the bill.
The Senator also expressed interest in air transportation throughout the three Micronesian countries.
A follow-on discussion pointed out some challenges with having few commercial Air Carriers with limited service into the FSM, and some emerging challenges with Regional Airlines being able to obtain entry into the U.S. from the FSM.
The Chairwoman recognised the impact that this challenge may have on the tourism industry and local travel options, and has offered to assist this issue in any way that she can.
The President also solicited support from the Senator on the challenges faced by FSM citizens regarding compliance with the REAL ID Act. Although FSM citizens are eligible for proper documentation under the Law, they face challenges with local state level authorities in obtaining this documentation; and it is clearly having an immediate impact on their livelihoods. Senator Murkowski is already aware of these issues and offered to assist in remedying the problems in a timely manner.
The President extended an open invitation to Chairwoman Murkowski, after learning of her interest in visiting the FSM.
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