Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made a brief stop on Saipan yesterday, making him the highest Trump Cabinet official to swing by the CNMI as he hop-scotched across the Pacific this week. It is being hoped that his visit would emphasize the important role the U.S. territories play when it comes to national security.
Zinke, a former U.S. representative from Montana, could be the first Interior secretary to visit the CNMI. His trip came a week after U.S. Department of Defense deputy assistant secretary for Basing Allison Sands visited Tinian. Zinke’s trip brought him to Guam, Papua New Guinea, and Nauru to attend the Pacific Islands Forum. He will also visit American Samoa.
He is joined on these trips by Douglas W. Domenech, assistant secretary for Insular and International Areas; Lt. Gen. Bryan P. Fenton, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Command; Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield, Joint Region Mariana commander; National Security Council’s Eric Johnson; Office of Insular Affairs director Nik Pula; Department of the Interior’s Lt. Greg Knee; and U.S. DoD’s Oceania director Amon Killeen.
“The Saipan and Tinian stop are part of a longer trip to emphasize that the Pacific matters. Saipan matters. The U.S.’s pivot [has been] spending more time and resources looking at the Pacific,” Zinke told reporters after a wreath-laying ceremony at the American Memorial Park’s Court of Honor.
“It is really about making sure that we have freedom of movement, actions, sovereignty, and choice,” he added.
Zinke said the federal government also wants to make sure the U.S. territories like the CNMI could also grow. “Our side is to make sure that outside the fence, the bases, that there’s a prosperous economy. To make sure that the economy prospers and that the military is its strategic partner the Pacific and protects national security. It’s also to make sure it [territories] has a platform that the economy can thrive. To make sure that Saipan and the Marianas prosper.”
Zinke said he wants to assure the territories that the islands are not forgotten. “Because it is important, the frontline of the territories. We want to make sure that you’ve seen the shining light on the hill, the beacon.”
“We want to make sure that this is the shining light at sea too and that the islands are not forgotten. …I’m happy to see that Saipan, the CNMI, is doing well, but there’s always an opportunity to do it better.”
Torres thanked Zinke for making the effort to visit Saipan, which was part of the U.S. federal delegation’s weeklong meetings with Pacific leaders. “Having him here and him seeing our monuments, and [American Memorial Park] is a great honor for all of us. We’ve also been on Tinian and also toured the island.”
“Having him [Zinke] here and seeing our islands, seeing the progress, it makes a big difference. Having someone in his position flying all the way from D.C. and giving us time for a visit.”
Torres added that they had also discussed certain issues that are concerns and are happening in the CNMI. “We’ve been discussing since last night. In fact, he congratulated us for having our CW issue [settled].”
“We talked about waiting for the [CW] rules and regulations from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some of the challenges we face with our [Chinese and Korean] tourists. How important Asia works here in the CNMI. And how difficult it is to get big companies to come here.”
The delegation will also visit Hawaii, before heading back to D.C.