Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper gave President David Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia a formal welcome at the Pentagon on Friday.

Military service members in formal uniforms lined the steps of the Pentagon while a color guard held the FSM and U.S. flags.

The United States is seeking to establish closer ties with the FSM, as China tries to establish and deepen relations with island nations in the Western Pacific, and in the context of China's militarization of the South China Sea. 

"The security relationship between the United States and Micronesia continues to be very close, and I'm hopeful it will get even closer," Esper told Panuelo, according to the Defense Department.

"We are very proud of the many Micronesian citizens who serve in the United States military," the defense secretary said, noting that per capita, it's more than from any other country. "That's remarkable," he added. Published reports indicate up to 1,500 Micronesian citizens serve in the U.S. forces, the Defense Department added.

"Our partnership has strengthened maritime law enforcement in the Pacific, and we also share similar priorities through the Compact of Free Association, which plays an important role in regional stability," Esper said.

‘The economic provisions’

Panuelo, in his speech at the Pentagon, said defense relationship between the FSM and the United States remains intact, but the FSM wants to focus Compact negotiations on "the economic provisions.”

The FSM government is seeking Department of Defense support as the FSM begins negotiations on the expiring economic provisions of the Compact with the United States.

The Compact allows FSM citizens entry into the United States. The FSM has received hundreds of millions of dollars in financial assistance from the U.S. government in the more than two decades the Compact between the U.S. and the FSM has been in place. The Compact gives the U.S. military access to FSM land, water and skies for defense purposes. The United States has also made contributions to a trust fund for the more than 100,000 FSM citizens. The trust fund was estimated to be worth more than $600 million last year.

"The purpose of the meeting was to reaffirm the enduring and perpetual defense relationship between the FSM and the United States, as codified through the Compact of Free Association," Panuelo said.

“Our enduring relationship makes me proud,” Panuelo added. “We think of [the United States] as part of our family—and I feel at home when I am here.” A day earlier, Panuelo had visited the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame at Arlington Cemetery.

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