In an apparent last-ditch effort to scuttle the appointment of Douglas Paal to be America's unofficial representative to Taiwan, Senator Jesse Helms, former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has written a personal letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell asking a number of pointed questions about Paal's background, the Taipei Times has learned.
The letter, sent on Monday, asked about published information concerning statements Paal had made about Taiwan and about the funding sources for Paal's think tank, the Asia Pacific Policy Center.
The letter, on committee letterhead, ended with the unusual handwritten note from Helms that read, "P.S.: I would prefer a call from you about this if you have the time." The letter was signed, "Many thanks, my friend."
In the letter, "Helms made it clear that Paal is not a good choice for the job, and would like to see someone else," a Senate source said. The source said that Paal still appears to be the only candidate for the job and that Helms did not have another candidate in mind.
However, conservative congressional staffers, known locally as the "Blue Team," who strongly oppose Paal's appointment, still are floating possible alternatives to Paal for the post of director of the Taipei office of the American Institute in Taiwan.
There are two possibilities at the moment: the head of the Asia program at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Larry Wortzel, who was once the military attache at the US Embassy in Beijing, and AIT's Taipei office acting director, Pamela Slutz, who was recently promoted to a position that, sources in Washington say, would qualify her for the director's post.
Nevertheless, Paal has powerful friends in the State Department, sources note. "Jim Kelly and Rich Armitage have their heels dug in on this, and Doug Paal is their man, and they're not going to budge," a Senate source said.
He was referring to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia James Kelly, both of whom worked with Paal during the administration of former US president George Bush.
Paal's name began floating last summer, but it was held up at the White House for some months over concerns about his positions toward Taiwan.
In his letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Taipei Times, Helms refers to allegations contained in a recent article in the political news weekly, the New Republic.
Much of that information also appeared in an earlier article in this newspaper in January.
In his letter, Helms quotes assertions that Paul "operated a for-profit consulting firm as a non-profit tax exempt ... organization and that he failed to register as a foreign agent though he derived the bulk of his income from foreign sources."
Such an operation could be illegal and potentially subject to criminal penalties if the charges are found to be true.
Helms also noted earlier revelations about statements made by Paal that upset many conservative Taiwan supporters in Washington.
"He has always seemed to me a dubious candidate for this post for several reasons," Helms wrote:
"1. His errant judgement on arms sales to Taiwan in the past, 2. His statement last year that President Bush `misspoke' when the president stated he would do `whatever it takes' to defend Taiwan, and 3. His open criticism of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). These viewpoints seem to be at odds with what otherwise has been a sound Bush administration policy toward Taiwan."