Wed, May 10, 2006 - Page 1 News List

No US stop for Chen's return flight

DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS The president said he did not think the transit stop fuss would harm US ties

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) will not stop in Anchorage, Alaska, but in the Dominican Republic and Abu Dhabi on his way back from his state visit to Latin America, Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang (黃志芳) said yesterday.

"We've informed the US government of our decision," he said. "We really don't want to bother our friends [US officials] by going all the way to Anchorage for the president's two-hour refueling stop."

Huang made the remarks during a tea party Chen held for the media in Costa Rica yesterday, which was broadcast live in Taiwan.

Chen told the reporters that he didn't think the transit dispute would affect Taiwan-US relations.

Since Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had suggested that Chen stop in Anchorage as planned, Chen said he was curious to know what Ma would do if he were president.

"Despite all the restrictions, I managed to make transit stops in the continental US in 2000 and 2001," Chen said. "This time, I could only have stopped in Anchorage and Honolulu for five hours for refueling."

While some have argued that the US transit dispute was targeted at Chen, he said the problem had nothing to do with who was president or which party was in power.

"I believe even Ma would encounter the same problem if he were the president," Chen said. "The president represents the country and the country's sovereignty. Was the humiliating treatment 12 years ago targeted at former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) personally? I believe the answer is no."

When Lee was offered Honolulu as the only transit option on his way to Costa Rica in 1994, he wore pajamas in the plane to express his discontent.

"Do you want me to wear slip-pers and pajamas, to do the same thing again?" Chen asked. "If I had done so, I could have embarrassed the US government, but what good would it do for my country?"

"I prefer to spend more time in the air and sure, it is an awfully long flight, very uncomfortable and very inconvenient, but at least we are left with our dignity," he said.

Chen said the decision not to stop in Anchorage was not an impulsive act but a considered matter of national interest.

As for the original plan to make a transit stop in Beirut, Lebanon, Chen said he had been surprised to be refused permission to stop there.

"It would not have been a surprise if we could have stopped in Beirut because we have been working very hard," he said. "Unfortunately, the US government informed the media at a critical point of our decision not to stop in Anchorage, making the local media start a guessing game about other possible transit locations," he said.

He dismissed speculation that the transit arrangements showed US displeasure with his decision to mothball the National Unification Council, saying both sides had reached agreement on the matter.

He also brushed aside media reports that he was unhappy with National Security Council Secretary General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁), who was portrayed as being overly optimistic about the US government's response to the transit application.

also see stories:

Editorial: Transit saga no cause for celebration

Chen's woes reveal need for some US reflection

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