On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid in Washington, D.C.. The visit is the highest-level engagement between the two countries since the November 2018 inauguration of Ibrahim “Ibu” Mohammed Solih as president.
Pompeo and Shahid “discussed their common interest in deepening bilateral ties between the United States and Maldives, and their shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” a statement released by U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino noted.
“Maldives finds a true partner and friend in the United States, in our shared goals of promoting democracy, good governance and human rights and in maintaining security and stability in the Indian Ocean,” Shahid said after his meeting with Pompeo.
“Secretary Pompeo expressed strong support for the U.S.-Maldives partnership, announcing the intent of the State Department to work with Congress to provide $9.75 million in additional assistance for Maldives,” the statement added.
Pompeo also “hailed the signing of a memorandum of understanding to enhance aviation security and an intent by USAID to facilitate sustained collaboration with Maldives.”
According to the U.S. State Department, the two sides also discussed ways in the which the United States might offer help to the Maldives in managing its overseas debt and public finances, and countering financial crimes.
“The Secretary welcomed the Government of Maldives’ commitment to judicial reform, transparency, and rule of law,” Paladino’s statement added.
While in Washington, Shahid signed a memorandum of agreement with the United States on aviation security. “This will enhance capabilities of our law enforcement bodies to combat terrorism and violent extremism, and further strengthen our cooperation in this area,” he said in a tweet.
The meeting between the two officials comes days after the Maldives arrested former President Yameen Abdul Gayoom on money laundering charges. Yameen has come under scrutiny by Solih’s government.
In September 2018, Solih, as the joint oppositions candidate, won a surprise victory in the country’s national elections. Under Yameen the Maldives had moved away from democracy and grown closer to China.
The current government is still calculating the extent of the country’s private and public debt to China. Under Yameen, as much as $3 billion in Chinese financing flowed into the country, causing what the Solih government views as a debt overburden.
Solih’s victory was welcomed by the United States and India alike. Both countries see the new government as more favorable to their interests. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended Solih’s inauguration in November.
The Maldives, an archipelagic nation, sits astride strategically significant Indian Ocean sea lanes. Following its independence from the United Kingdom, the country established diplomatic ties with the United States in 1966.