Yokwe. Mr. President, Ministers, Senators, traditional and religious leaders, local government officials, members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished citizens of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik, and honored guests – thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
Fifty-nine years ago, the United States conducted tests of nuclear weapons, critical for global safety and security in a time of great tension and danger in the world. For the United States, in the context of those times, in the strategic thinking of the Cold War, the tests conducted in the Marshalls were meant to reveal a prospect so fearful that no one would dare start a nuclear war.
The cost of deterrence was felt in the Marshall Islands and in many other places around the world where the Cold War played out.
We learned the hard way that testing is dangerous. We have worked very hard in the Marshall Islands and elsewhere to mitigate those dangers. As global stockpiles continue to decline, scientists now have a much better understanding of radiation and its terrible effects. The American people remember what took place here and honor the historical contribution of the Marshallese people to peace and stability in the world. President Obama’s goal is a world without nuclear weapons. In April 2009 in Prague, the President committed the United States to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, seeking a world without them, and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We are working towards a treaty that includes, and is abided by, all countries.
The tests that the United States conducted were carried out in an effort to make the world more secure. In the end, though, it was people power, and the longing of people to live free, democratic lives, that brought the Cold War to a close and reduced the tensions that have allowed us to negotiate ways to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. People power is still the most powerful force for change.
The United States recognized the effects of its testing and accepted, and acted on, its responsibility to the people of the Marshall Islands, as reflected in the Compacts of Free Association and related agreements. The Compact states that unless otherwise agreed, the U.S. shall not test any nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon in the RMI.
The U.S. Congress funded a supplement to your National Health Care Program and the Department of Energy closely monitors the health of the most affected people and ensures comprehensive treatment of any cancer. Our scientists and national laboratories will continue their decades-long engagement. These programs the United States provides to the RMI are among the best in the world. Through the Compact, as Amended, I look forward to our two governments working together closely on other programs of shared interest – climate change, health and education, infrastructure, and economic development. I look forward to hearing the RMI’s views on how we can work together effectively to achieve our goals.
The United States, and the worldwide population owes the Marshalls a debt of gratitude. Today, our responsibility is to remember and honor those affected by nuclear testing. For many of you, you remember family members and loved ones. I am pleased to be here with you to honor their memory and to be here with you to thank you for being our strategic partner and our friend.
We have a long way to go to reach the goal of a world with no nuclear weapons. But we have made progress. Today we know better than to test, even in places considered at the time to be “remote.” Of course, if you live there, it’s not remote. It is home! And a homeland is a singular place. It’s a place in your mind. Where you were raised. Where you fell in love and married and had your children. For many elders it is now a place to return to one more time. I can imagine that to pack up and leave for another island, which was never home, was difficult for the people of Enewetak, Bikini, Rongelap, and Utrik. Words cannot describe your sacrifice.
Today, we are pleased to present to you for the College of the Marshall Islands Nuclear Institute, a series of historical photographs, depicting some of the tests and the people, American and Marshallese, involved. This is part of our shared history, a history we continue to work to address, and I am happy to respond to the Nuclear Institute’s request for such materials. I thank the Department of Energy and Library of Congress for these photos.