Wed, Aug 09, 2006 - Page 1 News List

MOFA defends Huang's meeting with Hezbollah

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS Opposition lawmakers called for the foreign minister to resign for associating with `terrorists' and damaging the country's democratic image

By Chang Yun-ping and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang's (黃志芳) meeting with the leader of Hezbollah in April was purely a courtesy call in line with the government's move to promote relations with Lebanon, where Hezbollah holds one-third of the seats in parliament, a ministry official said yesterday.

Michel Lu (呂慶龍), spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), made the remarks in response to a report by the Chinese-language Apple Daily yesterday which said that Huang had met with Hezbollah's secretary-general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah when he paid a clandestine visit to Lebanon in April.

Lu stressed that Huang met with several Lebanese officials -- including Hezbollah officials -- who have significant influence in the Lebanese government.

"The visit in April was made in a different context -- when there wasn't a war yet between Israel and Lebanon ... Hezbollah is a legal party in Lebanon, with two members currently serving in the Cabinet and holding one-third of the seats in parliament," Lu said.

"The minister's visit was purely a courtesy call. There's no need to read too much significance into the meeting," Lu said, stressing that the government opposes any form of terrorism and would not get in the way of a conflict between Israel and Lebanon.

Lu said that US and Israeli authorities did voice their concern after the meeting.

"We simply explained that Taiwan wants to develop ties with Lebanon and that [the meeting] does not mean that the country supports terrorism. After our explanation, the US and Israeli government did not make any further inquiries," Lu said.

Despite Lu's comments, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators yesterday demanded Huang's resignation, saying his meeting with the terrorist leader had damaged the nation's image.

"James Huang should step down immediately as a way of apologizing to the people for damaging Taiwan's image abroad because of his association with terrorists," KMT caucus whip Tsai Chin-lung (蔡錦隆) said.

"James Huang first associated with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and now Nasrallah. No wonder Taiwan has been retreating in defeat in the international community," Tsai said.

"The fact that Huang's meeting with Nasrallah was used as propaganda by Hezbollah on its Web site might create a misperception that Taiwan supports terrorism," he said.

KMT Legislator Joanna Lei (雷倩) said it was improper for Huang to meet with Nasrallah in private, given President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) declared opposition to terrorism and Taiwan's free and democratic image.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Yeh Yi-ching (葉宜津) came to Huang's defense, saying that the minister never expected there would be a war between Lebanon and Israel, adding that Huang was trying to expand Taiwan's diplomatic space.

"That is Taiwan's diplomatic dilemma. We hope that the Taiwanese people could see that it is China that is forcing Taiwan to do this," Yeh said.

Yeh said that the international society should realize that China's "gangster" tactics have given Taiwan no alternative but to make friends with certain countries.

"We hope that the international society could give Taiwan the basic dignity that a member of global village deserves and not overlook the fact that China has been squeezing Taiwan's space," she said.

Additional reporting by Jewel Huang

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