- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

The president of Palau was in Washington this week to underline the success of his country's "very special" relationship with the United States and trumpet his country as a vacation paradise.

"We have a positive story to tell our partners in the U.S.," President Tommy Remengesau Jr. told editors and reporters Wednesday over breakfast at The Washington Times.

Mr. Remengesau, who is in the second year of his first term, said Palau is contributing to Washington's battle against terrorism.

"We have done our part to support the war on terrorism," he said, citing a law banning money laundering, and vigilant monitoring of immigration to prevent terrorists from finding a safe haven in the South Pacific republic.

The nation consists of eight principal islands and hundreds of islets about 500 miles southeast of the Philippines. Following World War II, Palau was part of the U.N. Trust Territory of the Pacific under U.S. administration until it became an independent state in 1994. Under the terms of Palau's independence, the United States remains responsible for its security for 50 years.

"The United States is the big brother and Palau is the little brother," Mr. Remengesau said.

He spoke glowingly of his country's tourist industry the largest source of jobs in Palau, which he described as a snorkeling and scuba-diving paradise and one of the two places in the world where divers can swim with jellyfish that don't sting.

But he conceded that simply getting to the remote archipelago is hardly easy.

This year the nation of 20,000 inhabitants expects nearly 100,000 visitors perhaps even U.S. lawmakers, whom he said he would urge to visit Palau. "I've noticed that congressmen, when they are on vacation, like to fish," he said. "Palau will guarantee that they catch fish."

Because of the importance of the tourist industry, Mr. Remengesau said, he is concerned about illegal entry to its shores. People-smuggling has been a problem in the region, and Australia has used island nations to temporarily house refugees, including Afghans and Iraqis, who reach its territory.

At the end of last year, Australia offered Palau millions of dollars to take refugees, Mr. Remengesau said. But citing security concerns, he said he "respectfully declined the offer."

Mr. Remengesau also discussed Palau's three overseas missions: the embassies in Washington, Tokyo and, just recently, Taipei.

But he said his government's main focus in on protecting the environment and attracting tourists. "Our goal is to preserve the best, while improving the rest," he said.

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