Mary McGrory's column {Jan. 26} about two women from the Republic of Palau who oppose the Compact of Free Association between that island nation and the United States is a catalogue of misinformation. First, Palau is not nuclear-free. By its express terms, the provisions of Palau's constitution relating to nuclear weapons do not take effect until the current United Nations trusteeship for Palau is ended. Under the present trusteeship agreement approved by the U.N., the United States has full authority to establish bases and station weapons of any type in Palau.

Under the Compact negotiated by the United States and Palau's elected leaders, our government's military rights will be limited to contingency options that, if ever exercised, would be governed by agreements between the United States and Palau. These limitations on U.S. authority will not apply until the Compact takes effect and the trusteeship ends.

The column implied that the United States pressured Palau into accepting these basing options. To the contrary, during the Compact negotiations the United States refused a Palauan request to commit to the early exercise of our contingency options. The Palauans wanted the economic benefits of the improvements that come along with increased U.S. presence and improvement of infrastructure, but the United States had neither funding nor plans to exercise any of the Palauan options.

If, as the column contended, we had intended to develop Palau as a primary fallback from the Philippines, or as a site for nuclear weapons, we would have done so under the trusteeship. We would not be urging Congress to approve the Compact, which recognizes self-government for Palau and limits our military rights. Note also that under the Compact the United States has accepted the obligation to defend Palau. Palau's leaders sought this protection, and large majorities of the Palauan people have approved the agreement repeatedly in U.N.-observed votes.

Last August, two such open and peaceful votes were conducted in which a constitutional amendment and the Compact were approved by 73 percent majorities -- with voter turnout exceeding 75 percent. The U.N. has officially recognized the vote approving the Compact as a valid and free act of self-determination. In September, Palau's traditional leaders reached a compromise with the government that brought about a national reconciliation in favor of the Compact. As Mary McGrory notes, since then, non-Palauan ideologues and a variety of outside political interest groups have encouraged a small group of Palauans once again to bring litigation to block the Compact's implementation.

There have been isolated, deplorable acts of violence in Palau. However, they occurred weeks after the voting. There was no breakdown of law and order. Indeed, the government of Palau has provided protection to opposition leaders on request, and has investigated, prosecuted and won convictions of three of those who committed acts of violence.

Finally, Palau's debt arising from a power plant project -- the subject of numerous political conspiracy theories -- bears no relation to its economic difficulties because Palau has never made any payments on the loan. In fact, Palau disputes the debt and the matter is the subject of litigation. Palau's economic problems arise from overspending and the development needs of an emerging nation. Implementation of the Compact of Free Association will enable Palau to enter on a new course of economic and social development.

JAMES D. BERG

Director, Office of Freely Associated State Affairs

U.S. Department of State

Washington