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Remarks by Acting Secretary Shanahan at an Enhanced Honor Cordon in Honor of the Presidents of the Freely Associated States of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands

May 21, 2019
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan

ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PATRICK SHANAHAN: Well, good morning, everyone. This is -- this is a first for me. I've never been with so many presidents. (Laughter.)

We had to get a much bigger room.

But, first of all, you know, on behalf of the Department of Defense and everyone here in the -- at the Pentagon we extend a very warm welcome, probably warmer than the weather outside. (Laughter.)

It's probably the nicest day that we've had, so we're really trying to set the tone.

I thought I'd make, you know, a couple of remarks, and then if you would, maybe share some remarks, as well. And then we have some guests here and they might ask us a question or two.

But first of all, welcome, and under the compacts of free association, we have a special relationship built on a shared history and common values. Since the United States is responsible for your defense, this is your Department of Defense, too.

First, congratulations, President Panuelo...

PRESIDENT DAVID W. PANUELO: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. SHANAHAN: ... on your election May 11th. So...

PRES. PANUELO: My tenth day here, guys. (Laughter.)

SEC. SHANAHAN: You're having a big tenth day, right? (Laughter.)

PRES. PANUELO: Absolutely, yeah.

SEC. SHANAHAN: So it's good to see an alum of the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies leading a Pacific island nation. Congratulations. Thank you for the contributions of your citizens serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Congratulations to Micronesia Ambassador Susaia?


SEC. SHANAHAN: There you go, sir, yeah -- on your son Einstein's graduation from Army basic training at Fort Jackson.

Fantastic. Thank you.

I'm glad that you were able to lay a wreath at Arlington Cemetery yesterday to honor your citizens who have paid the ultimate price. We are deeply grateful for their sacrifice.

The United States stands ready to defend your countries against outside threats such as North Korea. We are committed to working with you to address common security challenges such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

And I'd be pleased if you could share some remarks. Maybe start with Madame President?

PRESIDENT HILDA HEINE: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and we also would like to offer our congratulations on the president announcing his intent to appoint you as secretary.

SEC. SHANAHAN: Thank you. Thank you very much.

PRES. HEINE: I look forward to working very closely with you.

You -- Mr. Secretary, you know that the islands and waters of the Freely Associated States enable the U.S. to deny access to an expanse of the Pacific as large as the U.S. territory, or continent of the United States, and that the Marshalls host the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll. You -- we also know that the U.S. used the Marshall Islands, our islands after taking them in World War II for 67 nuclear bomb tests, (inaudible) people, as well as land.

You also should know that the pre-association between our nations were developed because, one, the U.S. had promised the U.N. to make our islands self-governing, but didn't want to lose the strategic control that simple independence would mean, and to the U.S. developing our people a great loyalty to the United States.

Admiral Davidson was spot on when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Freely Associated States are threatened by the use of Beijing's economic leverage. We deal with illegal ship entries, supposedly for fishing, and Chinese bringing leaders to Beijing and proposing a special administrative district with autonomy from our government and promising to build a port and 1,000 homes.

The Department of Defense was also right when it reported that security is threatened by the rising sea levels, the increased existential threat with the Marshall Islands, which is comprised of flat islands. More immediately, there are problems in the compact's implementation, and I would be wanting to share that later on in the discussion this morning. Thank you for this opportunity, and for welcoming us. Thank you.

SEC. SHANAHAN: Thank you.

PRESIDENT THOMAS REMENGASAU JR.: I would defer to the President of Micronesia

PRES. PANUELO: Thank you, President Remengasau.

Well, thank you, Mr. Secretary, and it's such an honor to be one of the invited presidents in person here. You all know this is a very historic gesture by President Trump. And our various countries have been the closest ally of the United States. As a student in the United States myself, I have been really proud of this relationship, and having worked at the United Nations earlier, Mr. Secretary, I've had that experience where only three or four Korean votes in the UNGA was there. And we had had some other countries that -- turning around to check which with other super-power country, who are those, only to find that we were just small, tiny Pacific island countries. But that's testimony, really, to the special relationship that we have. Some of the difficult positions that our countries as a sovereign nation had to follow were really in alignment with U.S. policies, and I know are important security issues that we all work on.

We're proud that our sons and daughters to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Yesterday was really an awesome display, and a solemn moment for us to come and experience what it's like to be hosted by the United States, and I think it's so fitting that -- that we respect fallen soldiers.

In Pohnpei, the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia, you know, we display 10, I believe, 10 photos of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, dying.

So yesterday was really emotional for me as the head of state, as we know, that our citizens to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and to pay the -- the ultimate price. And so coming here with our two esteemed presidents from the various countries really speaks to the value that we all have in our region in playing a part of the strategic importance and value between our -- our two countries.

And so we -- we welcome the renewed experience that we are going through right now, more focused in the Pacific. I have said that as a sovereign nation, we will work with the U.S. You know, Mr. Secretary, that our defense and security commitments under the compacts of the Free Associated States has never wavered at any time in the history of our relationship, and that will continue in perpetuity, as far as we're concerned.

So being here, Mr. Secretary, I think one of the things that I, as head of state, would like to see, and Department of Defense, of course, plays a significant role in how the relationship continues. As you are aware, Mr. Secretary, just maybe a few years down the road, we will be, you know, looking at the ending of some of the provisions under the compact.

And I say, Secretary, as I know that defense plays a very important role in the, you know, pending talks that our two countries will engage again, we look to you...


PRES. PANUELO: ... for your support in that process and working with the rest of the Department of State and others. And we hope to see accelerated talks so that coming to 2023, we're both ready and the new government, in continuing this very, very unique and special relationship.

So I'll just say I leave it there. But I have so much that I want to share with the excitement of being here. I thank the Department of Defense and all the individuals who played very important role in continuing this relationship.

And our people are proud of this relationship. I thank you, Ambassador, who's been the keen eyes and, you know, ears of your country. We work very close with him. And we continue to look forward to even closer cooperation in the months and years to come.

We do have the joint exercises between our two countries....

SEC. SHANAHAN: Right, right.

PRES. PANUELO: We welcome whatever intentions the U.S. is having in terms of expand and increase their presence in our country. And so with our two presidents here, I convey our collective thank you and appreciation with such a great honor, being here, hosted by your government. Thank you so much.

SEC. SHANAHAN: Thank you.


PRES. REMENGASAU: And likewise, Mr. Secretary, this is indeed a historic visit for us here, for three of the United States' closest allies and friends in the Pacific.

I can't help but also feel a solemn respect for the reminder of yesterday's ceremony at Arlington. I too have two nephews who served in the military. Ambassador has two children, serving the military.

I think for all of us here, if you ask every one of us, we have a family member or a cousin -- (Laughter.) -- serving in the U.S. Military. But that's the value of this meeting here, Mr. Secretary, is that we consider ourselves part of the family. And as family, we share common values, principles and especially in our part of the world, security and freedom of navigation and rule of law and human rights. Those are an important part of our island nation-building.

And so the leadership of the United States is very much appreciated and looked at too. And I appreciate the fact that President Trump recognizes the values of small brothers and sisters like us that we all come to the table with something to share and contribute to these common goals.

And so we are here in Washington to not only emphasize the fact that the Compact of Free Association provides that framework of working together, but really to discuss with you the areas where the joint use of the compact obligations and responsibilities can benefit not just the militarization, but also the civilian uses of those obligations. And that goes a long way to expanding and promoting our relationship.

I think all of us can attest to the challenges now in the Pacific. Certainly you mentioned Korean Peninsula, the China-Taiwan Straits issues, the South China Seas, militarization and threats to -- to freedom of navigation.

All of those issues are very, very concerning and very dear to our hearts. And so we appreciate the leadership that President Trump is, you know, very clearly taking on behalf of the world. And for that matter, those of us in the Pacific who consider that security is a big issue for whether you're small or big. We all need to contend with something, so.

SEC. SHANAHAN: Right. Good.

PRES. REMENGASAU: That's my point. Thank you very much.

SEC. SHANAHAN: Thank you very much. Good, good.

Q: Mr. Secretary, on Iran, earlier, you said, "We couldn't hold their potential for attacks on Americans." Does that mean that the threat is diminished or reduced? Could you just kind of clarify what you meant by that?

SEC. SHANAHAN: There haven't been any attacks on Americans. I would consider that a goal. That doesn't mean that the threats that we had previously identified have gone away.

Our prudent response, I think, has given Iranians time to recalculate. I think our response was a measure of our will and our resolve, that we'll protect our people and our interests in the region.


Q: Mr. Secretary, can you talk about how the Defense Department is working with the Justice Department and the White House ahead of the possible pardons of Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher, Mathew Golsteyn and the three Marine scout snipers?

SEC. SHANAHAN: Jeff, but I would just say, at this point, I'm not really going to speculate on any of the pardons. But I would just say, we'll leave it to the White House to comment on the situation there. OK.

All right. Hey, thanks, everybody. See you later.