Fri, Jun 04, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Taiwanese marines not welcome in Iraq, US says

TRILATERAL TIES The State Department's top Asia official said sending Taiwanese marines to Iraq would anger China, but he welcomed Chen's inauguration speech

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

The US will not "seek or welcome" Taiwanese marines in Iraq because their presence would "significantly" heighten tensions with China, the State Department's top Asia official told Congress on Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary of State For East Asia James Kelly made the comment in response to a question from Representative Dana Rohrabacher during a subcommittee hearing of the House International Relations Committee.

Rohrabacher was a co-sponsor last month of a bill urging President George W. Bush to ask President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to dispatch 5,000 marines to Iraq to help the US and its allies fight the resistance there.

Taiwan has "helped out in Iraq with humanitarian and tangible items for use in construction," Kelly said in response to Rohrabacher's question on whether the Bush administration would be "favorably disposed" to an offer by Taiwan to send troops to Iraq.

"I do not believe," Kelly continued, "that we would seek or welcome the advent of Taiwan troops, because that would require a degree of cooperation that might help things in Iraq, but it would raise tensions significantly in East Asia."

Rohrabacher, one of Taiwan's leading supporters and a co-chairman of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, took issue with Kelly's response.

"Just let me note that sending 5,000 troops from Taiwan, a democratically elected government, to help establish a democracy in Iraq would be a good thing," Rohrabacher said, "and it is so sad that we are afraid to anger a dictatorial regime in Beijing, and that's why we are not willing to look at that alternative."

In his written testimony, Kelly praised Chen for his inaugural address, which was written in consultation with Washington officials and reportedly vetted by the administration beforehand.

Kelly said the administration welcomed the address.

"By making clear his administration's commitment not to take unilateral steps that would change the status quo and underscoring its openness to seeking accord with Beijing, President Chen is helping to restore dialogue across the Taiwan Strait," Kelly said.

The State Department official also delivered the administration's thanks to subcommittee chairman Jim Leach for leading the "unofficial" US delegation to Chen's inauguration.

"Your longstanding interest in Taiwan underscores the respect we feel for the people of Taiwan, their democracy and our commitment to working with the new Chen administration," he said.

The delegation, Kelly added, "delivered a clear and unambiguous signal to Taiwan and the PRC on the importance of reducing tensions across the Taiwan Strait."

Leach, who confirmed previous reports that he delivered a letter from Bush to Chen, called the speech "thoughtful, statesman-like and helpful," adding that it is "my hope that his speech will prove constructive in creating an opening for dialogue with Beijing."

But Kelly expressed doubts over the value of Beijing's May 17 statement that offered the stick of Taiwan's destruction and the carrot of international benefits to Taiwan if it accepted the "one China" principle.

"There were some interesting parts to the May 17th proposal," he said, "but then it was loaded with all sorts of rhetoric, personally attacking the leadership in Taiwan, that seemed to sweep away some of the other suggestions."

The positive elements, however, may be useful "later on" to help toward a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues, Kelly said.

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