Fri, Feb 04, 2005 - Page 1 News List

State Department denies delaying weapons pact

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

The State Department has denied that it is delaying final US approval of a NT$610.8 billion (US$18.2) billion arms sales package to Taiwan, amid accusations by members of Congress that the department is impeding the sale in deference to China's objections and the need for Beijing's help in the North Korea nuclear crisis.

The department was responding to a letter that seven House of Representatives members sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Jan. 27, complaining that the department has refused to notify Congress of the planned sale -- a key last step in the approval process -- until the Legislative Yuan approves the special defense budget needed to approve spending for the arms package.

The representatives see that reason as an excuse meant to curry favor with China.

The letter calls the stipulation a "novel precondition." Congressional sources in favor of the sale charge that such a criteria has not been applied to US foreign arms sales before.

"That's not the way we've done business with Taiwan in the past, and that's not the way we do business with other countries," the source stated.

The letter states that the failure of the arms package would hurt Taiwan's security and cause losses to US defense contractors.

In refuting the letter, a State Department official told the Taipei Times, "the decision [to sell the weapons] was made in 2001."

"That's policy. That's what we are going to do. The president decided it, and we have an obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act to make available items to Taiwan for its self-defense," the official said.

While the administration makes the decision on what weapons will be sold, or allowed to be sold, to foreign governments, it is Congress that actually has the final word. After the administration sends formal notification to Congress -- via four House and Senate committees -- Congress has 45 days to approve the sale, which is usually automatic.

"Congress wants to approve this sale," a congressional source said, adding that it can't do so until it gets the department's notification.

The controversy has brought to the surface a long-standing split in the administration between the defense and state departments over the sale.

"The defense department is dying to get this thing off the ground," a congressional source said, but the State Department "is utilizing domestic Taiwan political differences to try to get its way."

The department is refusing to give notification to Congress "because we want to put pressure on the Legislative Yuan to come up with the money," the congressional source claimed. "That doesn't make sense because the KMT is out there saying, `They're not serious about selling the stuff anyway, so why buy it?' The State Department did not have any other excuses to delay, so they came up with this $18.2 billion funding thing."

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