No mention of SOFA in joint Malta-US statement after Esper visit

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The government’s reported agreement to reach a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US – which would restrict Maltese jurisdiction on US military personnel in Malta – was notable by its absence in a joint statement by the Maltese and US governments in the wake of a visit to Malta by US Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper.

Esper held bilateral talks with Prime Minister Robert Abela at the Auberge de Castille in which Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo and Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri were also present.

The visit came after The Times reported that Cabinet had agreed on the SOFA, an agreement long sought by the US but controversial in light of Malta’s constitutional neutrality. Sources suggested that Malta would concede to the agreement in return for US support on the Financial Action Task Force ahead of a crucial assessment of Malta’s anti-money laundering efforts by the Council of Europe’s Moneyval experts.

The government has denied such a quid pro quo agreement, and Abela has insisted that any agreement signed would respect the Constitution.

It is rare for a US Cabinet member to visit Malta, suggesting an agreement of some significance was on the cards with Esper’s visit, but the joint statement gave little indication of what was discussed, summarising this as “bilateral relations and how this relationship can be further strengthened.”

Discussions, the two governments said, also focused on migration challenges and on cooperation between the Armed Forces of Malta and the US military, with the US pledging to provide formative and technical training to Maltese soldiers.