Clinton vows to help resolve Washington's complicated status with Puerto Rico

(AP)Hillary Clinton on Monday promised to help resolve Washington's complex relationship with Puerto Rico as she battles for every last delegate in a contentious Democratic nomination race for president.

Clinton's campaign released a statement outlining her vow to settle the status of the U.S. island, where local political parties mount campaigns that largely focus on the long-standing debate over what should be Puerto Rico's relationship to the U.S. mainland.

"The issue is one of basic democracy and self-determination," her campaign said some 11 weeks before Puerto Rico holds a June 1 primary with 55 delegates at stake. "She will enable the issue to be resolved during her first term."

The New York senator, who hopes to make a dent in Barack Obama's delegate lead, said she would vigorously advance plans that would enable Puerto Rico to decide if it wants to remain a commonwealth or become a U.S. state or an independent nation.

The island, a U.S. commonwealth since 1952, is almost evenly divided on the question of its status. Islanders, who cannot vote for president, have chosen to keep their loose affiliation with the U.S., rejecting statehood in nonbinding referendums in 1967, 1993 and 1998.

Clinton, the former first lady, may benefit from Puerto Rico's close links to New York, home to many from the U.S. Caribbean territory.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but cannot vote for president, and their representation in Congress is restricted to a single nonvoting member. National party conventions provide islanders a rare chance to have a direct say in Washington.

The tight delegate race has many locals, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic, excited by the prospect of the island of nearly four million being part of the campaign storm.

Seizing on the rare opportunity to influence U.S. politics, Puerto Rico's Democratic Party recently chose to hold a presidential primary instead of a caucus to encourage more islanders to participate in the June 1 contest.

Roberto Prats, party chairman in the U.S. territory, said the switch would put pressure on Clinton and Obama to campaign in the Caribbean island.

In her campaign's Monday statement, Clinton also pledged to provide new tax benefits to create jobs in Puerto Rico, which is struggling through a second year of recession, and to return some federal land on the outlying island of Vieques to local residents.

Clinton was among several New York politicians who had been vocal supporters of halting military exercises in Vieques, which had provoked protests that contributed to the U.S. decision to end maneuvers in 2003.

Seven superdelegates will round out Puerto Rico's 62 convention votes. Three of the superdelegates are committed to Clinton, two to Obama, and two are uncommitted.

The most recent Associated Press count showed Obama with 1,617 delegates and Clinton with 1,498. At least 2,025 delegates are needed for the nomination.