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Palau Signs Nuke Ban Treaty, but U.S. Nuclear Devices Allowed

Thirty-eight years after approving the world’s first nuclear free constitution, Palau has reiterated its moral leadership by being one of the first 10 countries to sign the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr signs the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 20 Sept 2017.

Photo by Ambassador Olai Uludong's facebook page.

The signing occurred September 20th during the 72nd Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City.

But while Palau is likely to ratify the treaty, serious questions have been raised on Palau’s treaty obligations when it comes to its political relationship with the United States Government. The Compact of Free Association, which gives major powers of defense to the United States allows for nuclear substances, biological chemicals and other weapons in Palau.

Palau President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., said after returning from the U.N trip that while the treaty signing has just started Palau did its job early.

“I must give credit to the leaders of my country, who, over 30 years ago, recognized the threat of nuclear weapons and banned the use, test and storage of nuclear weapons in Palau’s Constitution. In their honor, yesterday I signed this Treaty,” President Remengesau, Jr., said in his statement to the U.N. General Assembly.

Nations acceding to the treaty would be barred from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, otherwise acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons under any circumstances. They also cannot allow the stationing, installation, or deployment of nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices in their territory under any circumstances. It is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, with the goal of leading towards their total elimination.

President Remengesau said that the reason Palau was invited to be one of the first 10 countries to sign is that Palau’s position is clear and recognized worldwide through its nuclear free constitution.

The treaty requires approval by the Olbiil Era Kelulau (Palau National Congress) for ratification. The House of Delegates gave its approval Oct. 10, but the Senate‘s consent is still pending.

Palau was one of the six Pacific island countries and the first group of 50 to sign the treaty. Fiji, Samoa, Tuvalu and Kiribati are among the other Pacific Island nations who have signed. It needs 50 ratifications among the signatories for the treaty to take effect on nations that backed it.

The treaty comes at a critical moment, in which for the first time in more than 50 years, Pacific Islands have been threatened with nuclear annihilation.

“While the desire for nuclear bombs and missiles is incomprehensible to those of us who remember the toll nuclear testing and bombing once took upon our friends, families, and neighbors, we cannot bury our heads in the sand. With the direct threats against Guam and Japan, we cannot afford to be silent,” President Remengesau said in a letter to the presiding officers of the Olbiil Era Kelulau.

President Remengesau doesn’t see any conflict between the treaty obligations and the compact agreement.

“What is sensitive is that the US is obligated to defend Palau on threats of aggression or in times of war.,” Remengesau said at a press conference earlier this month.

“And we know that the military uses nuclear weapons and nuclear powered vessels, so based on the compact agreement, the U.S will defend us but is not obligated to confirm the presence of nuclear devices in their war equipments,” the president said.

As part of the world’s first nuclear free constitution, adopted by 92 percent of the voters in July 9, 1979, Palau included two provisions, which the United States firmly objected to as incompatible with the Compact of Free Association.

These are: Article II, Section 3. Major governmental powers including but not limited to defense, security, or foreign affairs may be delegated by treaty, compact, or other agreement between the sovereign Republic of Palau and another sovereign nation or international organization, provided such treaty, compact or agreement shall be approved by not less than two-thirds of the members of each house of the Olbiil Era Kelulau and by a majority of the votes cast in a nationwide referendum conducted for such purpose, provided, that any such agreement which authorizes use, testing, storage or disposal of nuclear, toxic chemical, gas or biological weapons intended for use in warfare shall require approval of not less than three-fourths of the votes cast in such referendum.

And Article XIII, Section 6. Harmful substances such as nuclear, chemical, gas or biological weapons intended for use in warfare, nuclear power plants, and waste materials there from, shall not be used, tested, stored, or disposed of within the territorial jurisdiction of Palau without the express approval of not less than three-fourths of the votes cast in a referendum submitted on this specific question.

Palau only allowed the United States military to bring in nuclear weapons of war after the 75 percent constitutional requirement was lowered to simple majority votes clearing the way for the compact agreement approval after eight referenda.

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