Most veterans of World War II remember the South Pacific island group of Kiribati by its British name, the Gilbert Islands, whose capital of Tarawa was the scene of bloody fighting between Americans and the Japanese. Now Kiribati (pronounced kir-ibass) has become a micro-arena of the cold war.
Claiming that its exclusive fishing rights extend 200 miles offshore, Kiribati, along with a dozen other small Pacific nations, wants U.S. fishing interests to pay it $20 million a year to catch tuna off their shores. U.S. companies refused to fork over, but the Soviet Union agreed to pay $1.7 million to fish off Kiribati.
Admiral Ronald Hays, commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific, warns that the Soviets are less interested in catching tuna than in expanding their strategic influence. The U.S. is now offering $5.5 million to keep its fishing foothold in the South Pacific.