Amid soaring speculation over the long-delayed appointment of Douglas Paal as the top US diplomat in Taiwan, officials at the Taipei office of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) said the process of appointing their new boss is still under way.
"The announcement will be made as soon as the selection process is completed," AIT acting director Pamela Slutz told the Taipei Times on Friday.
Slutz, however, was tight-lipped when asked about the possible arrival date of the new director.
Media reports have centered on the long-delayed choice of Paal as the US' de facto ambassador to Taipei, with some calling into question his appointment to the AIT, the de facto US embassy to Taiwan, after the two sides severed ties in the late 1970s.
The latest report to cast doubt on his appointment appeared in the Washington Times on Friday. The report quoted a US official as saying that the last hurdle for Paal's appointment is said to be US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who "still has reservations about sending Mr. Paal to Taipei to represent US interests."
The official also told the Times that James Kelly, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, with the support of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, has pushed for Paal's appointment.
Kelly and Paal were former colleagues at the National Security Council during the administration of former US President George Bush.
A high-ranking Taiwanese official who has had longstanding ties to Paal told the Taipei Times last month that Paal has been "very frustrated" with the less-than-smooth appointment-confirmation process.
The New Republic, a US political newsweekly, also published an article last week calling Paal's appointment into question.
According to a Taipei Times report on Jan. 21, congressional conservatives were critical of Paal's nomination because of what they saw as his "unfriendly" statements toward Taiwan, as well as dubious sources of funding for his think tank, the Asia Pacific Policy Center.
Paal's criticism in June over US President George W. Bush's statement that the US would do "whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan backfired, triggering antagonism against him from conservative Republicans, sources said.
Paal said that Bush "misspoke" when making the statement and that the US had shown "moderation in reverting to the `one China' policy."
"Vice President [Dick] Cheney showed no such moderation, however," the Washington Times wrote. "Mr. Cheney said several days after the president's remarks that the statement was calculated to reiterate that very strong determination on our part, that there should not be a resort to force by the mainland," it said.
Prior to the US decision last April on the scale of the US arms sale to Taiwan, Paal reportedly said that he hoped President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) would decide "not to pursue high-profile arms purchases right now as a goodwill gesture toward mainland China," according to the Washington-based Nixon Center's Web site.
Paal was special assistant to former US president George Bush for national security affairs and senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council, where he also served in the administration of former president Ronald Reagan.
Paal has worked in the US State Department with the Policy Planning Staff and as a senior analyst for the CIA. He has also served at the US embassies in Beijing and Singapore.