A senior US official has declined to rule out the possibility that Academia Sinica President Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) will have a chance to engage US President George W. Bush in a chat during this weekend's meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and perhaps to deliver a personal message of friendship to Bush from President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
"We don't have any bilateral plans" for a formal meeting between Lee and Bush, the official told reporters during a background briefing on the upcoming APEC meeting.
"But there is no limitation on discussions among any leaders in APEC. And I'm sure that Dr. Lee will have the opportunity for discussions with a number of other participants," the official said.
Speculation that Lee would present Bush with a message from Chen rose when it became known that Lee was expected to sit next to Bush at one of the meals during the APEC meetings.
Sources say that Bush was made aware of this during his planning sessions for the APEC meeting, and is prepared to engage Lee in conversation if Lee initiated it during that meal.
Such a message, sources say, would congratulate Bush on his re-election, express Taiwan's commitment to friendship with Washington, and pledge to keep Washington informed of Taipei's thinking and actions, and promise "no surprises."
If it comes off, the exchange, it is believed, would be the first time in recent memory that a Taiwanese representative and a sitting US president have had an official exchange, aside from handshakes and greetings exchanged during annual Washington Prayer Breakfasts, which Taiwan representatives and US presidents attend.
"Dr. Lee is a very respected figure, not only on Taiwan, but also in the Asia-Pacific region and internationally," the US official said. "He is a very able representative for the people of Taiwan."
"It is important to the United States, it is important to many members of APEC that Taiwan have active participation in this process, both from the perspective of their economic contribution, and other contributions in the region," the official said.
Last weekend, however, Lee told Taiwanese reporters that he would not forward a message from Chen during the APEC get-together.
"APEC is about economic cooperation, not a platform for mediators," he said.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the US official indicated that in his summit meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) Saturday on the margins of APEC, Bush would push for progress on the resumption of a cross-strait dialogue, partly on the basis of recent public statements by Chen.
"We've seen some elements that are new from Taipei," the official said, noting Chen's National Day offer to resume talks based on the 1992 Hong Kong formula and Chen's 10-point peace offer to Beijing on Nov. 10.
In addition, "we sometimes hear things from Beijing. The president thinks that some discussion and dialogue is a useful thing," the official said.
Stressing that Bush is "not trying to be a broker," the official said such talks are "in the interest of both parties as well as the region. This is why not only Bush, but other leaders, have encouraged not only the maintenance of the status quo, but also opportunities for cross-strait discussions.
"We wouldn't try to dictate what they are, but we see signs and elements coming out of Taipei and Beijing that are of interest," the official said.