Obama green-lights 902 talks


U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday (CNMI time) wrote to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres to finally give the go on requested consultations between the CNMI and the White House.

Obama, in his May 19 letter, designates Esther Kia’aina, the assistant secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas, as his special representative for these talks pursuant to section 902 of the Covenant that established the CNMI’s relationship with the U.S.

“I trust that this section 902 consultation will be a vehicle for addressing critical issues raised by the CNMI,” Obama said in the letter.

In a letter last October and through follow-up letter in January, the CNMI had asked Obama to initiate discussion over two critical issues: the impending phase out of contract worker program in 2019 and the U.S. military’s desire alter previously agreed upon land leases to conduct live-fire training and bombing activity in the CNMI.

The administration of Torres welcomed the news, hoping to continue an effort first initiated by the late Gov. Eloy S. Inos.

“We are very excited to finally begin the important process of creating our panel and formalizing our positions on the key issues we brought forth to President Obama months ago,” said Gov. Ralph DLG Torres in a statement.

“This has been a priority of my administration since day one, and we will continue to work toward making sure the President addresses the legitimate concerns facing our Commonwealth today.”

The 902 talks has been seen as an avenue for the CNMI and the federal government to come up with an agreement on a foreign worker program to replace the expiring contract worker program in 2019.

If agreement is reached, the worker program packaged will be pushed through U.S. Congress with Obama’s backing.

Private and public officials cast a range of 15,000 to 35,000 workers needed in the Commonwealth.

Nearly two weeks ago, members of the Strategic Economic Development Council voted to recommend that Torres pursue a permanent program of some 18,000 workers to meet the project development needs of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

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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