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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Welcomes President of the Republic of Palau, Surangel Whipps Jr. to the Pentagon

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III:  Well, good afternoon, President Whipps.  Welcome to the Pentagon, and thanks for making the trip from Palau.

It -- well, just last week, I returned from a sling through Southeast Asia as we were talking about coming up the stairs, and so I -- I understand the -- the issue of jetlag, and I hope that jetlag's not treating you too bad right now, so...

On behalf of the Department of Defense, I'd like to start by thanking your father for his service as a medic in the U.S. Army in -- in 1960s.  He's actually a part of a long and proud history of Palau, and service in the U.S. military, and today, about 500 Palauans are in our ranks across the force, and we thank them for their service.

I also want to commend you, sir, and to the people of Palau for your success in -- in fighting COVID-19.  Today, you have, as I understand it, zero confirmed cases, and Palau was the first country to vaccinate 80 percent of its population.  That, sir, is an impressive feat.

And Mr. President, I'm looking forward to talking with you today about the important partnership between our countries, and about the vision that we share of a free and open Indo-Pacific, and thank you for continuing to uphold the values and principles that we share with our allies and partners in the region.  And to that end, I want to underscore that the Department of Defense is deeply committed to our defense responsibilities as a part of the Compact of Free Association, and we look forward to successful negotiations of the economic assistance provisions of that compact that will strengthen our strategic partnership and help us to promote a free, open and secure region.

Mr. President, I also want to personally thank you for Palau's willingness to host U.S. forces.  As you know, since 1970, U.S. civic action teams have deployed to Palau to support a broad range of initiatives, and we appreciate the opportunity to also deploy equipment to Palau that lets us exercise in our joint capabilities and enhanced deterrence. The U.S. military presence in Palau and across the Pacific Islands is deeply important to our shared goals of partnership and prosperity, and we are grateful for your cooperation and hospitality.  

And again, Mr. President, it is a delight to have you here.  Thank you for making the trip to Washington, and I'm looking forward to the discussion.  Sir?

PRESIDENT SURANGEL WHIPPS JR.:  First of all, good afternoon.  It's -- and I hope you're not suffering from too much jetlag.  But on behalf of the delegation that is here with me today, and especially members of our congress, we have, from our senate side, our vice president of the senate and from the house of delegates.


PRES. WHIPPS:  (inaudible) chairman of our ways and means committee and the rest of our delegation -- ambassador and our chief of staff.  We are just extremely grateful to be here and giving us the time to come and talk about mutual areas of interest.  I think the partnership between Palau and the United States is special.  It really highlights the importance of this partnership when we were attending the JCM meeting in Guam with your team from INDOPACOM, and they reminded us of how we jointly protect the homeland and Palau and the other FAS states that are considered part of the homeland, and that's an important part of the relationship.  

And we always say that presence is deterrence, and by seeing activities, I was fortunate a few weeks ago to be watching Special Forces conduct exercises in Palau, and it was extremely exciting to see what they're capable of doing, and I -- I think it makes the people of Palau feel secure, and we appreciate that.  And we welcome more activities by the military because in small island countries we have difficult challenges when it comes to keeping our economy robust and growing -- and strong, and -- and the military provides areas to enhance our economy.  So having those troops coming in to exercise helped boost our economy a little bit, while we have no tourists right now, so it's very much appreciated.

And -- and we want to continue to strengthen the partnership because we believe in a free and open Indo-Pacific.  And there are many challenges, which we'd like to discuss further.  And especially when it comes to our compact, I think one of the key parts of that is that those rights and --  and responsibilities under the compact between Palau and the United States when it comes to security and defense are perpetual, and that relationship needs to -- on the economic side needs to be strengthened, and -- and we hope that we can continue to work on that while we're here, so thank you.  Thank you, and...

SEC. AUSTIN:  Well, thank you.