The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has unanimously approved a bill to support Taiwan's bid to gain observer status in this year's meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva in May, sending the legislation to the full Senate for its consideration.
The bill, which was approved by the House last December, directs US Secretary of State Colin Powell to devise a plan to gain observer status for Taiwan, and to instruct the US delegation to the meeting to implement that plan. It also instructs Powell to submit to Congress a written report on the plan two weeks after the bill becomes law.
The bill is identical to legislation enacted last year to back Taiwan's participation in the 2001 WHA meeting, but which was enacted too late to have an impact on US policy.
While the George W. Bush administration has publicly endorsed Taiwan's participation in the WHO, Taiwanese officials who recently met with State Department officials in Washington said that the issue has been put on the back burner due to the change in department priorities in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
Taiwan's supporters hailed the committee's action, which was taken without discussion.
"Today's Senate action nearly complements the European Parliament's unanimous passage of a resolution last week calling on members of the European Union to support Taiwan's observer status application," said Wu Ming-chi (
"Momentum is now on Taiwan's side and I hope that the US State Department will seize this opportunity to right the wrong of Taiwan's exclusion from international organizations like the WHO," he said.
Committee members also hailed the decision.
"Our positive action here today is both an act of leadership itself and a call for leadership by the State Department to actively implement a concrete plan for Taiwan's participation in the WHO," said Democrat Robert Torricelli in a prepared statement.
Meanwhile, former Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms says he still has not received an answer from Powell to a letter he sent two weeks ago objecting to the appointment of Douglas Paal as the director of the Taipei Office of the American Institute in Taipei.
Speaking to the Taipei Times briefly outside the committee's meeting room in the Capitol, Helms said he opposes Paal's appointment.