Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Eni Admits State Dept. Ignores Him; Lays Down the Gauntlet

In a startling admission for someone who was the ranking minority member of the House Asia-Pacific subcommittee at the time, Faleomavaega conceded that in 2006 "without any consultation with either the American Samoa Government or [me]," the Department of State advised the Pacific Forum not to grant American Samoa observer status in that organization following a request for such status made by Governor Togiola. That Eni was ignored on an issue that would have been of relevance not only because of his subcommittee rank but also because it directly affected American Samoa comes as no surprise. Last year, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice held a summit in nearby Apia with the region's foreign ministers and told him he could attend but not speak. Even though he was in Pago Pago at the time, he passed up the summit, even though by that time has become chairman the A/P subcommittee.

Now Eni is laying his prestige on the line once again by writing a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking that American Samoa be permitted to have observer status at the Forum. In a press release carried in the April 22 Samoa News, Eni was quoted as saying “In my capacity as Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment, I am confident that with the support of President Obama’s Administration and Secretary Clinton, American Samoa and the other territories will be able to submit applications for observer status at the next Pacific Islands Forum Annual Meeting scheduled for August 2009 in Cairns, Australia."

Just last week Eni said he would move to have oversight of the Palau-U.S. Compact stripped from Madeleine Bordallo's insular subcommittee and moved to his A/P subcommittee, so we have to assume he has greased the skids with State on this initiative rather than blindside Clinton. Were the U.S. to decline to let its territories observe at the Forum and were the Deaprtment to successfully object to taking over management of the Compact of Free Association, it would be a huge double humiliation for the delegate, who despite his continued accumulation of seniority and his early endorsement of the Obama presidential candidacy, so far is showing no sign of gaining any influence or respect at all in Washington as a result.

Incidentally, this latest initiative comes hard on the heels of his governor's announcement that he believed the time had come for American Samoa to consider changing its political status to something more permanent, with details to be left to a constitutional convention to be held in the fall. Perhaps Faleomavaega is telegraphing that the change in status might including loosening ties with the U.S., which, of course, would pave the way for Forum observer status. Keep an eye on all of this. There are huge ramifications to these changes. So far, Samoa News has ignored it all.

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