Fri, Feb 13, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Powell approves of referendum

FOREIGN POLICY The US Secretary of State also said that strong diplomatic efforts are being made to dissuade the EU from dropping its ban on arms sales to China

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

US Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared to signal a retreat from the Bush administration's tough line on the Taiwan referendum on Wednesday in testimony before a congressional committee hearing on President George W. Bush's fiscal 2005 budget request for the State Department and foreign affairs.

"Taiwan is a democratic place," he told the House International Relations Committee. "If they choose to have a referendum, they can have a referendum."

Powell omitted from his comments recent administration statements that linked the planned referendum with changing the "status quo" in the Taiwan Strait, a connection Bush and his aides have repeatedly made.

Powell did say, however, in answer to a question by Democrat Sherrod Brown, a co-chairman of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, that the Bush administration "does not want to see these actions lead in any way to a change in the situation." He did not give details.

Citing the administration's "one China" policy based on the three communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act, "which gives us certain obligations with respect to the security of Taiwan," Powell said, "we don't believe any action should be taken in the region that would unilaterally change the situation."

He added that "we don't really see a need for these referenda."

Powell also said the US is making strong diplomatic efforts to dissuade European nations from dropping their Tienanmen-era ban on sales of weapons to China in view of recent efforts by France and other nations to resume the arms sales.

Powell said he raised the issue with the French foreign minister at lunch last Friday, and with Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen before his appearance at the committee hearing on Wednesday.

"I have been talking with all of my European Union colleagues," including foreign ministers Jack Straw of Britain and Joschka Fischer of Germany, he said.

He said he told them "this is something they really need to give long and hard thought to, and not do."

While the EU has shelved the issue for the moment, they will return to it, Powell cautioned the committee, and "we will be pressing our European colleagues not to abandon this policy."

Meanwhile, for the fifth year in a row, Brown and the other three Taiwan caucus co-chairmen introduced legislation in the House endorsing observer status for Taiwan in the meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva in May.

The bill authorizes Powell to "introduce a resolution on the floor of the World Health Assembly, before the assembled delegates, in support of Taiwan's participation" in the meeting as an observer.

It was the first time that such a bill had authorized the introduction of such a resolution.

Previous years' versions merely urged the secretary to develop a strategy to secure Taiwan's observer status.

As a result, while the US has spoken in favor of Taiwan in recent meetings, such comments were generally made in meetings on the sidelines of the actual assembly, not in it.

"SARS and avian influenza continue to threaten Taiwan," Brown said. "The case has never been stronger for allowing the people of Taiwan access to the World Health Organization," he said, noting that SARS killed scores of people in Taiwan last year.

As in recent years, the current bill also mandates the secretary to develop and implement a plan to secure observe status in the World Health Assembly for Taiwan.

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