Sun, Sep 28, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Bill to end arms freeze opposed by White House

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

The administration of US President George W. Bush said it “strongly opposes” a bill approved by the US House of Representatives last week aimed at prodding the administration into ending its freeze on arms sales to Taiwan, saying the bill would impose unconstitutional requirements on the executive branch and harm the president’s foreign policy-making authority.

In letters to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman sent on Tuesday, the departments of state and justice criticized the bill’s provisions requiring the administration to give regular detailed briefings to Congress on its plans for arms sales to Taiwan and any discussions with Taiwan officials. The letters were sent the same day the House approved the bill by a voice vote without objections.

Meanwhile, prospects that the sales could get through the necessary congressional notification process this year appeared to die on Friday, which was to have been the final day of the two-year 110th Congress’ term, with congressional sources saying the administration had yet to begin the first steps in the process, which must precede the formal notification.

While the national financial crisis will keep the lawmakers in session beyond Friday’s scheduled adjournment, Congress will likely deal only with the financial bailout, to the exclusion of other issues, in a bid to get out early for the election campaign.

Moreover, prospects for a lengthy “lame duck” session after November’s elections that might have allowed the notification process through seemed to have faded after the House on Wednesday approved a stop-gap bill to finance government operations through March and the Senate appeared ready to follow suit.

Congress has failed to pass legislation funding the operations of most government departments for next year, which the end-of-year session was to have focused on.

While the Taiwan arms bill that passed on Tuesday appeared to be only a technical matter, the real aim, according to congressional sources familiar with the bill’s purposes, was to keep a close eye on the administration’s actions to pressure it to release the weapons systems approved by Bush in 2001, but held up since late last year.

The administration’s reaction, however, was restricted to questions of executive privilege.

“To the extent that the bill’s requirements for detailed briefings contemplates revelation of all major diplomatic or national security-related discussions with Taiwan,” the Department of Justice (DOJ) letter said, it “would infringe upon the president’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign diplomacy and to supervise and determine the timing and extent of the disclosure of diplomatic and national security information.”

But the department held out the possibility that the administration could drop its opposition if the wording of the bill were changed to call only for a vague set of “appropriate” briefings and consultations.

The State Department’s letter echoed the DOJ’s position, saying that the Bush administration had briefed Congress on Taiwan arms sales and would continue to do so.

“US arms sales to Taiwan continue to be guided by the Taiwan Relations Act,” the letter said.

The department said “the administration currently is engaged in an interagency review of Taiwan’s 2008 requests to purchase certain defense articles and services.”

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