‘902 military talks not matter of give-and-take’

Torres: Live-fire bombing and training ‘incompatible’ with Covenant and technical agreements
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres talks to reporters during a briefing Tuesday about last week’s 902 talks in Washington, D.C. (Dennis B. Chan)

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres talks to reporters during a briefing Tuesday about last week’s 902 talks in Washington, D.C. (Dennis B. Chan)

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said Tuesday that the “Section 902” talks with federal officials including those from the Department of Defense are not a matter of give-and-take and said that for any new Defense projects to move forward in the CNMI, existing “promises and contracts” must be fulfilled.

Torres was pointing to the CNMI Covenant, which established a relationship with the United States, and the technical agreement effected at the same time that spelled out the U.S. use of land leased to it.

“We have an existing contract. That needs to be fulfilled, before you start proposing anything else. That’s what we want. Nothing more, nothing else,” Torres told reporters Tuesday.

The Torres administration believes the proposed live-fire and bombing range use of public lands leased on Tinian would have to be “reworked” to become compatible with the “purposes for which the land was leased,” as spelled out in the CNMI Covenant and the technical agreement with the U.S. on the use of land leased to them.

Noting these binding documents, Torres referred to “economic promises” and the two-thirds of land leased to the military on Tinian to build an airbase, build schools, hospitals, “even as much as a movie theater.”

Asked if he though the live-fire project—which also entails bombing Pagan—was incompatible or in conflict with these agreements and if he made this clear in meetings with officials in Washington, D.C., Torres said, “For sure.”

“What we agreed on is specifically stated… We emphasized this is one of the reasons why we joined the U.S. family. We have an agreement and we want that agreement fulfilled before we move to any other proposed projects.”

Pagan, for one, was not required to be leased to the United States and Torres asserts that the CNMI has no real interest in leasing or selling portions of the island for military training purposes.

Right now, Torres said there are in the final stages of “programmatic agreement” for the U.S. Air Force’s divert airfield project, which Torres has stressed to be on Tinian.

“Our request and our concerns have been addressed and so we are getting to where we believe it will protect the people of the CNMI and not just today but 40 years from now,” said Torres.

Torres officials believe that when the CNMI elected to become part of the American family of states, it agreed to lease property on Saipan, Farallon de Medinilla, and Tinian for specific purposes.

The U.S., for one, agreed that—until it chose to build an airbase on Tinian—public lands there would be leased back to the CNMI for ranching and agricultural purposes—and that there would only be basic military operations and maneuvers training such as Cope North and Forager Fury.

In other words, the CNMI agreed to allow live fire and bombing activities on Farallon de Medinilla—not Tinian.

And whether the United States can, officials say, change the use of the property on Tinian for live-fire and bombing ranges is a separate legal issue, which should be considered in the historical context under which the CNMI agreed to lease this property of the United States.

On Farallon de Medinilla, or FDM, Torres said he stressed environmental issues and the proximity of fishing with the current bombing on the island.

“By the time we are given back the property in 2083, it will not be the same as what we gave them, so we did echo that concern,” he said.

‘Not negotiations’

Torres was also asked Tuesday about the “quid pro quo” or negotiating points in the 902 discussions.

Some local leaders claim and even former Cabinet members have suggested that other 902 topic—the CNMI’s expiring contract worker program—and the extension thereof—to stave economic collapse—would require a trade-off for the military use of Pagan, for example.

However, Torres, turning notably more and addressing reporters by name said, “Jill, Dennis, Cherrie, 902 is not about negotiating. We did not walk in there to negotiate because we are not there to give something to receive something. 902 talks are avenue for us to walk in there” and talk about agreements “that made us a part of United States. We are not” going to “say that in 20 or 40 years we are going to ‘give you a little bit and give me little bit.’ We are here to tell the United States what we are facing and the issues that we have. We are not asking for bailouts. We are asking them to look at our situation and perhaps give them a special approach because we do have a special relationship. But no negotiation.”

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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