The 34th session of the Portugal-U.S. Standing Bilateral commission met on Friday, December 4, in Angra do Heroísmo, Terceira, for yet another round of “high-level bilateral talks” which resulted inconclusive.
The US official delegation, headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary Conrad Tribble, met with the President of the Government of the Azores Vasco Cordeiro, and Portuguese government representatives, to address the implications resulting from the implementation of the US Defense Department plan to down scaling its military outpost in Lajes.
Yet, according to Conrad Tribble, at the present time, any further developments involving the future of Lajes remain inconclusive because it involves a review by the US Congress.
“The extraordinary holding of the meeting in the Azores reflects the importance both the United States and Portugal attach to the role and contribution of this region to our overall relationship. We look forward to positive and productive bilateral talks,” Conrad Tribble offered.
The meeting was attended by US Ambassador in Portugal Robert Sherman, who thanked Vasco Cordeiro, the Azorean people, and the Portuguese counterparts, for hosting the bilateral talks and for the warm and gracious hospitality.
As a tribute, the US Ambassador offered President Cordeiro a list of suggestions that could be valuable for joint initiatives in the health sector and innovation in the tourism and fishing industry. Other bilateral initiatives may include entrepreneurship, student exchanges, and scholarships to Azorean students.
Earlier this year, the government of the Azores had presented to the US counterpart an economic revitalization plan for Terceira island. The plan requested the US to pay €167 million a year for 15 years as compensation for the economic revitalization of the island, including the “contamination cleanup” needed after 60 years of military occupation of Lajes.
Last January, the United States Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, had confirmed the Pentagon’s decision to downsize the US presence in the Lajes Field. The decision will save the Pentagon an estimated $35 million annually.
This is the third meeting of the bilateral commission after the announcement. In 2012, citing budgetary constraints, the US administration had informed the Portuguese government that it would significantly reduce its military presence at Lajes.
In March, a delegation of members of the United States Congress visited the Lajes Field. A bilateral meeting, between Portugal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rui Machete, and United States government representatives, was held in June in Washington.
The plan to downsizing Lajes Field includes the withdrawal of 500 US military personnel from US Lajes and the laying-off of an estimated 700 Portuguese civil workers. The U.S. military base in Lajes is the second largest employer on the island and downsizing the base will significantly impact the local economy.
Terceira’s military importance dates to World War II, when it was first used by the British to fight German submarines and later by the United States to deploy troops in North Africa and Europe.
Related on the Web
- Americans Start to Leave Air Base in Azores, and Locals Fear Economic Impact – The New York Times
The Azores (population 250,000) is a region of Portugal composed of nine islands. The archipelago discovered by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century, became an Autonomous Region of Portugal in 1976. The government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores includes the Legislative Assembly, composed of 57 elected deputies, elected by universal suffrage for a four-year term; the Regional Government and Presidency, with parliamentary legitimacy, composed of a President, a Vice-President and seven Regional Secretaries responsible for the Regional Government executive operations. The Autonomous Region of the Azores is represented in the Council of Ministers of the Central Government by a representative appointed by the President of Portugal. According to the latest US census over 1.3 million individuals of Portuguese descent live in the United States, the majority with roots in the Azores. It is estimated that over 20,000 US citizens live in Portugal.