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Sat, Feb 17, 2001 - Page 3 News List

Presidential Office denies arms were discussed in letters among Bush, Chen

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sources in the Presidential Office yesterday denied that either President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) or US President George W. Bush had touched on the sensitive issue of arms sales in official letters to each other.

A local media organization said yesterday that Bush hinted, in his first letter to Chen, that he would no longer sell Taiwan weapons, especially the AEGIS-class frigates, for the time being.

The Presidential Office, however, immediately issued a press release stating that Bush's letter did not mention the weapons issue but mainly expressed the commitment of the US government to maintaining the security of the Taiwan Strait.

"President Chen did not mention the arms sales issue in a personal letter to congratulate President Bush on his inauguration," the press release said.

"That being so, why would Bush touch on this topic in his return letter?" a Presidential Office source said.

Chen asked Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) to forward a congratulatory letter to Bush on his behalf when Wang attended Bush's inauguration ceremony in Washington on Jan. 20.

Reports had said that Chen had expressed hope in his letter that the US would sell advanced AEGIS-class frigates to Taiwan to help upgrade its defense capabilities.

"In the personal letter, in fact, President Chen did hope that the new US government would continue to maintain the security of the Taiwan Strait in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act. But it would be too impolite to request arms sales in the letter of congratulation. President Chen certainly would not be so rash," a senior aide to the president said.

A media report yesterday said that Bush sent a "thank you" letter to Chen recently in which he touched on arms sales policy toward Taiwan.

"All those reports are wrong," the senior aide said.

The aide also confirmed that Bush sent a personal letter to Chen last week via the Taipei office of the American Institute in Taiwan, which represents US interests in the absence of official ties.

According to the sources, in his return letter Bush reaffirmed US commitment to Taiwan security.

"President Bush told President Chen that the US government will keep its promise to safeguard the peace of the Taiwan Strait and also reaffirmed that it will maintain its friendship with Taiwan," the aide said.

The aide also said that Chen "stressed his pragmatic attitude" on cross-strait relations during his recent meetings with former Clinton administration officials.

"The cross-strait issue is the most important topic we have to face and therefore President Chen is determined to help to create a good atmosphere to help reopen dialogue with China," the aide said.

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