The Carter administration has decided to seek expedited negotiations to end the 30-year U.S. trusteeship over Micronesia and , for the first time, is willing contemplate early independence for the vast mid-Pacific domain.
A team of officials from the National Security Council and the State, Defense, Interior, Commerce and Justice departments is flying to Honolulu for "round table discussions" beginning Wednesday to present the U.S. position to political leaders of the Micronesian islands. The U.S. took the islands from Japan in World War II and has ruled them since 1947 under United Nations mandate.
The new U.S. position on Micronesia's future was worked out by executive departments and approved by President Carter several weeks ago in a National Security Council policy paper, officials said.
The United States still prefers what has been termed "free association," an arrangement under which Micronesians handle their own internal affairs and place their foreign relations and defense in U.S. hands. However, fulL independence is now considered an acceptable option if that is the way islanders wish to go.
State Department officials believe that strong U.S. treaty ties and other close relations would be likely if the Micronesians should opt for independence. U.S. military and Coast Guard support is necessary for the unarmed Micronesians to protect and patrol their waters, and U.S. financial support is a mainstay of the islands' economy.
The French and British ties to some of their former colonies, including ministates that depend heavily on the former mother country for support, are considered possible models for a future U.S. Micronesian relationship.
In 1975 the Northern Marianas island chain voted to become a U. S. commonwealth, similar to Guam or Puerto Rico, in an arrangement subsequently approved by the U.S. Senate. However, the change will not take effect until the U.S. trusteeship over the entire Micronesian island area is disbanded
Negotiators for the rest of the Micronesian island groups have worked out a "draft compact" calling for autonomy in internal affairs and U.S. handling of defense and foreign affairs. While this is awaiting islanders' legislative approval, however, a contitutional convention working separately has written a new charter calling for Micronesian independence. It is to be submitted to the islanders for a vote next year.
The Carter administration's position is that the Micronesians should determine their future political status, including links to the United States. The United States hopes this will be done without delay, and is believed ready to set a target date in the early 1980s for dissolution of the trusteeship.
The U.S. "strategic trusteeship" in the mid-Pacific covers 5,000 islands, about 120,000 islanders and an oceanic area about the size of the continental United States. When the mandate was granted by the United Nations in 1947, the United States promised to promote econmic advancement and eventual "self-government or independence," a phrase that was added to the trustee agreement at the behest of the Soviet Union.
Of 11 special trusteeship agreements granted by the United Nations after World War II, only the U.S. mandate over Micronesia still remains in force. U.S. policymakers see this as a diplomatic embarrassment, particular at a time when American diplomats are pushing South Africa to give quick independence to its colony in Namibia (South West Africa).
In addition to fallback military positions in the Marianas, U.S. strategic interests in Micronesia include the missile testing area near Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands and a possible future military base area at Palau in the western Carolines. Separatist groups in the Marshalls and Palau are seeking to make their own deals with the United States, but so far Washington has refused to negotiate with them.
Among the most important U.S. security interests, in the opinion of Pentagon officials, is denial of the vast strategic region to the military forces of other powers. A deal between a foreign power and a Micronesian ministate could change the strategic balance and threaten U.S. military policies in the Pacific.
The U.S. team which will resume discussions with Micronesian leaders in Honolulu this week includes admirals from the Navy and Coast Guard as well as representatives of civilian agencies. About 30 U.S. officials and aides and as many as 70 Micronesian leaders from various island groups and political entities are expected at the four days of meetings.
An impediment to the talks is the recent revelation that the Central Intelligence Agency spied on Micronesia negotiators during earlier deliberations on the region's future. Micronesian officials have demanded a full explanation of the spying before proceeding to future negotiations with the United States.