KOROR, Palau — Palau's decision to take in 13 Guantanamo detainees is a humanitarian gesture from a country that prides itself on welcoming society's castaways.
President Johnson Toribiong has repeatedly denied that this tiny Pacific archipelago stands to benefit financially in exchange for accepting the Chinese Muslims, known as Uighurs. But the arrangement coincides with the start of talks to review the agreement that governs Palau's relationship with the United States — its most important strategic and financial benefactor.
Under the Compact of Free Association, Washington's aid to Palau from 1995 to 2009 is expected to exceed $852 million, according to a report last year by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Key parts of the compact face a mandatory 15-year review and will expire Sept. 30 unless they are renewed.
"Any independent thinking person will say (the Uighurs) will have an effect (on the compact review), despite the fact that the politicians say it has nothing to do with it," Joshua Koshiba, head of Palau's negotiating team with Washington, said Monday.
Palau, a former U.S. trust territory about 500 miles east of the Philippines, is one of the world's smallest countries, with 20,000 people. Its economy depends heavily on tourism and aid.