Despite the fact that time is running short, the Presidential Office said yesterday there was still a chance the White House would send the arms package bill to Congress before its session ends tomorrow.
An official at the Presidential Office, who asked to remain anonymous, said the seven items included in the arms procurement package Taiwan has requested from Washington have obtained the support of the US Department of Defense. The defense department has sent it to the Department of State, pending the approval of Congress, the officials said.
While prospects for the sales to get through the necessary congressional notification process looked dim, the official said it was not too late if the package could make it to Congress in time.
The official made the remarks in response to a front-page story in the Chinese-language United Daily News yesterday that said the National Security Council and its representative office in the US had provided President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) with overly optimistic information that led him to “misjudge” the situation.
Ma said earlier this month that all signs showed that the White House would soon ask Congress to complete the procedures for the seven items requested by Taipei.
The report said the US Department of State told Taiwanese reporters in Washington on Friday they had notified Congress of arms sales to France, Pakistan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The interagency process for the arms sales to Taiwan, however, had yet to be decided on, the report said.
On Friday, the Taipei Times reported that the prospects of the sales getting through the congressional notification process this year appeared to have died on Friday, which was to have been the final day of the two-year 110th Congress’ term.
Moreover, prospects for a lengthy “lame duck” session after November’s elections that might have allowed the process to continue seemed to have faded after the House on Wednesday approved a stop-gap bill to finance government operations through March.
The year-long freeze has halted progress on US$11 billion to US$12 billion in arms sales that the Bush administration had approved in April 2001.
Members of Congress have castigated the Bush administration for the decision, saying it violates the Taiwan Relations Act pledge to sell Taipei defensive weapons and blaming the administration of trying to curry favor with Beijing at Taiwan’s expense.
The House of Representatives has approved a bill requiring the Bush administration to level with Congress on arms sales to Taiwan. The bill is seen as a strong endorsement of ending the year-long freeze imposed by the White House.
In letters to the US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman sent on Tuesday, the Department of State and the Department of Justice criticized 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. The letter said the bill would impose unconstitutional requirements on the executive branch and harm the president’s foreign policy-making authority.
The State Department said “the administration currently is engaged in an interagency review of Taiwan’s 2008 requests to purchase certain defense articles and services.”
The head of the Legislative Yuan’s Foreign and National Defense Committee, Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), downplayed the security impact of the dragging initiative yesterday.
Lin said this was because the US is preoccupied with economic difficulties. He said it was understandable that the Bush administration would discreetly handle Taiwan-US relations because China holds between US$500 billion and US$950 billion in US government bonds.
“[But] the existence of the Republic of China is important to the US [in terms of strategic significance],” he said. “Therefore, the US policy of arms sales to Taiwan will remain unchanged no matter who is elected the next US president.”
The Legislative Yuan broke a four-year gridlock on June 15 last year by approving the long-stalled government budget requests for an arms procurement package of 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, eight diesel-electric submarines and six PAC-3 anti-missile batteries. The former Democratic Progressive Party government’s proposal to acquire the three major weapon systems was submitted to the legislature for review in June 2004, but had been blocked by the pan-blue-dominated legislature.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus secretary-general Chang Sho-wen (張碩文) said yesterday that Taiwan needs to enhance its defense capabilities and Taiwan’s stance on the arms package remained unchanged.
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