Sun, Jan 08, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Top diplomat denies ministerial fall-out over arms purchase

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Taiwan's top representative in Washington has denied that there is any rift between Taiwan's foreign and defense ministries over the purchase of weapons from the US, and has rebutted reports that Washington has given Taiwan the green light to come up with a new weapons purchase wish list.

David Lee (李大維), Taiwan's de-facto ambassador to the US, made the comments to Taiwanese reporters during his monthly "tea-party" press conference with the nation's Washington press corps on Friday.

He was responding to conflicting statements from Foreign Minister Mark Chen (陳唐山) and a Ministry of National Defense (MND) spokesman over what US officials said during a recent MND visit to Washington for talks with Pentagon and other US officials.

"My view is that both ministries are working toward the same goal, which is to see if we can acquire the weapons systems as soon as possible," Lee told the Taipei Times after the conference.

"I don't think they have any different objectives. It may be that they have different perspectives," Lee said.

"But the MND is the primary agency in charge of the arms purchases," Lee noted.

Chen was reported to have told the Legislative Yuan that Washington signaled a change in its position on the arms package during the MND Washington visit last month.

The reports said Chen told the legislators that the US had asked Taiwan to come up with a new list of desired weapons, in view of the pan-blue opposition's refusal to allow the purchase of the submarines, anti-missile systems and anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft the US had offered.

The defense ministry immediately refuted Chen's statement, saying that US officials said nothing of the sort during the visit.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman later conceded that Chen's comments were based on opinions he received from Washington think tanks during a visit earlier last year, and a statement by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴) quoting American Institute in Taiwan director Douglas Paal as saying that the US would okay a different weapons mix if Taiwan wanted it.

Lee told the reporters that the US position on the arms sales has not changed.

The Pentagon still abides by the pledge US President George W. Bush made to Taiwan in April 2001 to sell it a robust package of weaponry, which Taiwan had been seeking unsuccessfully for several years, Lee said.

The US feels that any Taiwan arms purchases must be from within that list of items, he said.

However, Taiwan does have leeway in deciding what to buy within those parameters, Lee said.

"It's pretty much up to Taiwanese authorities to decide, since we are a sovereign nation," Lee told the Taipei Times.

"But certainly, it has to be within the range of the agreement from the US side," he said.

The envoy noted that of the 12 items included in the package that Bush offered in 2001, Taiwan has already bought seven. The three included in the current budget controversy are the remaining major items.

In any event, Lee's comments and the statements by the foreign and defense ministries, still leave it unclear whether Washington would object if Taiwan decided not to buy the submarines, which are the key element in the arms package.

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