Senator suggests amendment could force sale of F-16s

By J. Michael Cole  /  Staff Reporter, with AP

Thu, Aug 25, 2011 - Page 1

A US senator on Tuesday said that if US President Barack Obama’s administration refuses to sell Taiwan the 66 F-16C/D aircraft it is requesting, he would push to have Congress approve the sale instead.

Republican Senator John Cornyn, who made the remarks after visiting Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth aircraft assembly plant in his home state of Texas, said Taiwan needed the aircraft to deter China.

“Congress has traditionally delegated this authority to the president, but it can pass legislation allowing this sale to take place,” Cornyn told the Star-Telegram.

“There’s significant support in Congress for providing our allies [Taiwan] with these planes, and I believe, under the Taiwan Relations Act, we’re obligated to do so,” he was quoted as saying.

Cornyn said an amendment to the defense authorization bill to approve Taiwan’s request could be introduced in October or November.

The amendment would require approval by Congress and Obama could still exercise his veto powers to prevent the sale, but this would mean scuttling approval of a wide variety of defense programs, he said.

Forty-five senators and 181 members of the US House of Representatives have signed letters urging Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to release the aircraft.

Earlier this year, Cornyn held up the confirmation of William Burns as US deputy secretary of state, resulting in a compromise by Clinton, who said the US would announce its final decision on Oct. 1.

Beijing has characterized the sale of F-16C/Ds to Taiwan as a “red line” and threatened retaliation, including severing military-to-military ties, if the US allowed it to go through.

So far the US has not officially accepted Taiwan’s request for the F-16C/Ds, with reports saying that the US Department of State had instructed Taiwan’s representative office in Washington not to submit a “Letter of Request.”

Although the Pentagon and the Ministry of National Defense maintain that the deal is not dead, recent reports claim Washington is likely only to approve an upgrade program for Taiwan’s aging F-16A/B fleet.

Washington’s refusal to release the more advanced F-16C/Ds would be a mistake, Cornyn said, and would “demonstrate we’ll give our allies the back of our hand” to pacify “our adversaries,” the newspaper wrote, adding that a well-armed Taiwan would take off some of the pressure on US forces involved in operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.