The administration of US President George W. Bush on Friday officially agreed to provide nearly US$6.5 billion in weapons sales to Taiwan, ending a year-long freeze that arose from strained US-Taiwan relations and which had raised questions about Washington’s long-term commitment to Taiwan’s national security.
Taiwan supporters in Washington and elsewhere praised the move.
The notification paves the way for negotiations between Taiwanese and US officials on a final contract that is expected to be signed by the end of the year, in time to take advantage of appropriations for the deal approved by the Legislative Yuan last year.
The package includes such long-sought items as PAC-3 missile batteries, Apache helicopters, Harpoon and Javelin missiles, and spare parts for Taiwan’s military air fleet.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the Pentagon unit that handles foreign arms sales, officially notified Congress on Friday of the administration’s plans to sell Taiwan six packages of weaponry, which, while not fully satisfying Taipei’s desires, would represent one of the largest bundles of arms sales in the history of US-Taiwan relations.
The biggest omission from the Taiwan shopping list was design work on the eight diesel-electric submarines which Taiwan has long coveted.
In addition, the administration rejected Taiwan’s request for Black Hawk utility helicopters, and reduced the number of PAC-3 guided missile batteries that Taiwan had hoped to obtain.
However, administration and congressional sources said that the omitted items may still be sold this year or next year as the State Department carries out additional work on the requests.
“We will continue evaluating Taiwan’s other requests,” a State Department official told the Taipei Times.
“The administration faithfully implements the Taiwan Relations Act [TRA], under which the US makes available items for Taiwan’s self-defense,” the official said.
Sources said that the official might have been referring to the Black Hawk helicopters, which had been expected to be approved.
That could come later this year, sources said.
While the House approved a US$700 billion financial bailout on Friday and left town to campaign for re-election, the Senate decided to stay on in so-called “pro forma” session and hold a lame-duck session beginning on Nov. 17 to clear unfinished business.
That would allow the administration to forward additional notifications on items that were absent from its notifications list, if it wishes.
“It is in the realm of possibility that if they decided to notify the other sales, that they can still do so,” one congressional staffer involved in the matter said. “I don’t expect it to happen, but I cannot rule it out.”
The State Department issued a statement after the notifications were made public that said: “This is a significant and tangible demonstration of this administration to provide Taiwan the defensive arms it needs to be strong, as provided by the Taiwan Relations Act.”
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a firm Taiwan supporter, praised the approval of the sales.
The approval “underscores the determination of the United States to continue the sale of appropriate defensive military equipment to Taiwan” in accordance with the TRA, she said.