Mary McGrory's column {Jan. 26} concerning the Republic of Palau highlighted an event that has received little attention in the United States, yet has profound foreign policy implications for U.S. interests in the Pacific and America's relationship with new and emerging nations.

Palau soon will become an independent country. The United States is now in the process of ending its 40-year stewardship of Palau -- a trust territory in the Pacific -- by recognizing that we have the same rights and aspirations for self-governance and self-determination as the United States had in 1776.

Given the strategic interests of the Soviets, the Chinese and the Japanese in the Western Pacific and Palau's small size and vulnerability to foreign domination, it is in the immediate interest of both Palau and the United States that a close relationship between our two countries be maintained and strengthened well beyond our independence day.

Unfortunately, this relationship is threatened because Congress is delaying consideration of the Compact of Free Association. This Compact has been overwhelmingly and repeatedly approved by the citizens of Palau. These plebiscites are a manifestation of our desire for economic and political independence, and are a profound statement of confidence in the democratic traditions we have learned under U.S. rule.

Nevertheless, Congress has yet to vote its final approval, which is necessary to permit the Compact to take effect. Why has Congress not voted? Because a minority in Palau, with the help of some special-interest groups in the United States, is trying to delay congressional approval of our agreement. What these few people have been unable to accomplish through the ballot box in Palau may occur anyway in the U.S. Congress if they are successful. They are attempting to derail passage of implementing legislation by raising three issues of little relevance that divert attention from the fundamental issue of whether, on balance, the Compact serves the U.S. national interest:

1. The construction of a power plant and whether Palau has reneged on its debt. At issue here is a complicated contract dispute currently in litigation in U.S. court and the subject of ongoing settlement discussions. It has no relevance to the congressional decision on whether the Compact makes sense for America and Palau.

2. Whether the United States lived up to its trusteeship obligations. No matter how one regards America's 40-year legacy in Palau, perpetuating trust territory status will not correct past problems and will undermine our future relationship.

3. Whether Palau's sixth and final vote to ratify the Compact was constitutional under Palauan law. This issue involves a transitional provision in Palau's constitution, added in case it was necessary to reconcile the constitution with the Compact. While this may constitute an interesting legal discussion, it is irrelevant to the long-term relationship of our two nations. The questions being raised by the U.S. Congress constitute an unwarranted intrusion into Palauan affairs and are an affront to those who have certified the referendum (including U.N. observers and President Reagan).

A minority has a right to dissent, but permitting the Palauan minority to delay implementation of the Compact into the spring could well have dire consequences. There will be severe economic and political ramifications. But more damaging is that the relationship we desire with the United States -- which is clearly also in its long-term interest -- will be undermined, perhaps fatally.

Palau upheld its part of the bargain, amending its constitution as part of the ratification effort. Congress must implement the Compact expeditiously and grant us the independence to which we are entitled and for which we have worked for the past 15 years. LAZARUS E. SALII President, Republic of Palau Koror, Republic of Palau