Fri, Sep 03, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Mark Chen `briefly' meets Colin Powell in Panama

By Huang Tai-lin  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN PANAMA

While President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) didn't get a chance to meet with US Secretary of State Colin Powell while attending the inauguration of the Panamanian president on Wednesday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山) was able to have a "brief exchange" with Powell.

Mark Chen said that he approached Powell, who was attending the event on behalf of US President George W. Bush, when he saw the secretary in the room.

"I introduced myself as the foreign minister from Taiwan, and expressed gratitude [to Powell] for the US' assistance to Taiwan, such as supporting the nation's bid to join the World Health Assembly (WHA)," said the foreign minister. "The exchange was brief, however, because Powell was busy, as there were other dignitaries from other countries surrounding him."

The foreign minister added that he wanted to find the president, but didn't know where he was at the time.

Mark Chen said that the president might have had a chance of running into Powell at the state banquet following the inauguration ceremony, if the US Secretary of State hadn't had to leave so soon.

Powell didn't stay for the banquet, but left shortly after the conclusion of the inauguration ceremony.

Chen and his entourage were in Panama to attend the inauguration of Panamanian President Martin Torrijos.

Whether or not Chen would get a chance to meet and interact with US Secretary of State Colin Powell was closely followed by Taiwan media.

During his visit to Panama to attend the Central American country's centenary celebrations, Chen had a chance to exchange pleasantries and shake hands -- twice -- with US Secretary of State Colin Powell. The exchange was the most senior-level encounter between the two countries' officials since 1979, when the US severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

During the inauguration ceremony, which was two hours longer than was original scheduled, Chen was placed between Haitian President Boniface Alexandre and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez.

Presidential Deputy Secretary-General James Huang (黃志芳), who also accompanied Chen on the diplomatic trip to Panama, told reporters that Chen was seated between Honduran President Ricardo Maduro and Spanish Crown Prince Felipe's wife, Letizia Ortiz, during the state banquet. Sitting across from Chen was the wife of Panamanian President Martin Torrijos.

Huang said Chen exchanged pleasantries with the other guests, and that he had extended an invitation to the recently married Ortiz to visit Taiwan on her honeymoon.

Saying that she would love to visit Taiwan, Ortiz added that "the travel itinerary must not be public, because [she] is afraid of paparazzi," Huang said.

Later that night Chen took part in a banquet hosted by expatriates held in his honor.

Aside from the expatriates, more than 70 devoted fans of "A-bian" -- as Chen is often referred to -- flew in from places such as New York, Houston, San Francisco and Guatemala to join Chen during the banquet.

Chen told the audience that in order to return to Taiwan for the nation's relief work in northern and central Taiwan, which was devastated by Typhoon Aere, he needed to maintain a jam-packed schedule and itinerary during his Central American visit.

The trip was delayed for a day and shorted by a day.

"The trip is being abbreviated not because we want to save money from staying at hotels or taking showers," Chen said, adding that his hectic schedule on his inauguration day was less busy than the trip he currently embarked on.

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