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Congress mixed on arms sales

US RELATIONS A Taiwan delegation in Washington this week has received lukewarm support for its top priorities, namely arms sales and greater international participation

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

A high-level Taiwan delegation to the US Congress' National Prayer Breakfast has received a mixed response from members of Congress and think tank scholars on stepped-up arms sales and cooperation between Washington and Taipei, delegation leader Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) said.

Arms sales, restrictions on bilateral contacts and Taiwan's membership in international organizations were the three main issues the delegation discussed in three days of talks, Hsieh, DPP chairman and Kaohsiung mayor, said at a press conference.

While most among the 12-member group were supportive of maintaining Taiwan's security, a "minority" were concerned over expanding arms sales and contacts, Hsieh said.

"Generally speaking, everybody said that the US as a matter of course would continue to provide Taiwan with defensive capabilities as it has in the past," he said.

However, "a minority were of the opinion that we should take care not to only talk about weapons, because talks about arms supply to Taiwan can perhaps unnecessarily provoke mainland China," he said.

One of the topics the group brought up was the question of US sales of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with sophisticated AEGIS radar and missile defense systems.

Some also expressed the view that a reintroduction in Congress of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA), would also be "unnecessary and provocative," Hseih said.

However, "everybody we spoke with said that Taiwan security is important," Hsieh added.

"We would welcome such a piece of legislation, but we of course respect the operational integrity of the US Congress, and we'll let them take the matter up on their own," he said.

While Hsieh did not identify the congressmen or scholars who had reservations, one of the congressmen the group was scheduled to have met was Republican Craig Thomas, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's East Asian and Pacific affairs subcommittee. Thomas strongly opposed the TSEA last year.

The act as approved by the House of Representatives last year would have enhanced military-to-military cooperation between Washington and Taipei, including secure direct communications links.

A Senate bill went further, calling for the sale of specific new weapons systems, including the AEGIS-equipped warships, failed to make it to the floor.

The Clinton administration also opposed the bill.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said in his confirmation hearing that the Bush administration has still not made up its mind on the matter.

In addition to weapons issues, the group also expressed hope that the US could help Taiwan gain the right to participate in various international organizations, including the World Health Organization.

The group heard on Tuesday that Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who strongly supports Taiwan, will shortly introduce a bill backing Taiwan's participation in the WTO and that supports Taiwan's attendance as an observer at the World Health Assembly that takes place in Geneva in May.

The delegation also pressed for closer communications between Taiwan and US officials, including the lifting of restriction on visits by senior officials of both sides.

They brought up the restrictions on transit of Taiwan presidents, underscored by the limits put on President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) during his recent stopover in Los Angeles.

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