Officials from the U.S. met with officials from the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau virtually this week to start renegotiating provisions of decades-old treaties.

The agreements known as the Compacts of Free Association provide economic support to the Pacific nations but those provisions are expiring in 2023 and 2024. The treaties also give the U.S. strategic access to the three nations’ surrounding waters and airspace.

“Both sides expressed regret at being unable to meet in person because of current circumstances but pledged to make the most of the virtual meetings until face-to-face meetings can resume,” the F.S.M. government described in a press release dated May 27.

The American negotiators include Ambassador Karen Stewart and Doug Domenech, Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Interior.

“Despite challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have been able to lay the groundwork for successful negotiations and establish a notional schedule with the goal of concluding negotiations by the end of this year,” Domenech said in a press release from the Interior Department published Friday.

Part of the urgency involves China’s overtures to the region. China recently provided the F.S.M. with more than $300,000 to fight COVID-19 and about 10,000 face masks, along with other protective equipment. The country has also received supplies from the U.S. and Israel, including 30 ventilators.

The Federated States of Micronesia’s chief negotiator Leo Falcam Jr. said in a press release that the country’s “commitment to mutual security is enduring and that the U.S.-F.S.M. strategic partnership reflects the common values of our two countries.” The Pacific nation also expressed condolences for the more than 100,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.

The F.S.M.’s press release said negotiators agreed the initial discussions will focus on federal programs and services. The next official meeting is scheduled for late June.

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