[WATCH] No mention of a SOFA between President and US Defence Secretary

President George Vella says a Status of Forces Agreement between the US and Malta was not on the agenda of a meeting he had with US Defence Secretary Mark Esper

President George Vella
President George Vella

A Status of Forces Agreement was not on the agenda of a meeting between US Defence Secretary Mark Esper and George Vella, the President has told MaltaToday.

In his first comments after news reports that Robert Abela's Cabinet had given the go-ahead for a SOFA deal with the US, Vella stuck to the government's line that no such agreement had been agreed yet.

In his previous political life, including his stint as foreign minister, Vella was opposed to SOFA, which grants privileged status to US military personnel in host countries.

"In the discussions held, and as the Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister stated, there has been no agreement as is allegedly being said," Vella confirmed when approached for a comment by MaltaToday after leaving St John's Co-Cathedral where he attended Mass celebrating the start of the judicial year.

"In the meetings, I had with the US Secretary of Defence, he did not even mention a SOFA," he asserted.

When prompted on whether he believes the SOFA goes against Malta's neutrality, Vella said that he is "talking about the facts as they stand today."

Earlier this week reports surfaced that a SOFA deal between Malta and the US was backed by Cabinet and agreed to over the summer, in the hopes of gaining American support in Malta's looming Moneyval assessment.

READ ALSO: Abela in hour-long talks with US defence secretary at Castille over SOFA

In the wake of these reports, the Prime Minister did not confirm or deny these negotiations, while the Foreign Affairs Ministry flatly denied the existence of an agreement.

Yesterday the President met with the US Defence Secretary Mark Esper at Sant' Anton Palace. A press release issued by the Office of the President subsequently said that migration, counterterrorism, and stability in the Mediterranean were topics discussed during the meeting.

READ MORE: How America looks out for its military personnel abroad