As more details emerge on the secret trip last week of two high-level Bush administration officials to convince President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to abandon his plan to scrap the National Unification Council, the US State Department for the first time came close to acknowledging that the trips took place.
The acknowledgment, by department spokesman Adam Ereli in response to questioning by reporters at his regular press briefing, appears to mirror the importance the administration has placed on Chen's plans, the tense state of US-Taiwan relations and how Chen's plans might impact on the planned summit visit to Washington of Chinese President Hu Jintao (
At the same time, authoritative reports in Washington say that the two officials came back from the trip disappointed by Chen's response at a time when the administration is wrestling with its policy on Taiwan and China.
And one authoritative report said that Washington is now certain that Chen will use his speech commemorating the anniversary of the 228 Incident to announce the abolition of the council.
These developments came as Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (
Yang spoke with Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill in meetings in which Chen's plans and the US response came up.
Ereli said only that the US side "reiterated our long-standing positions on that issue in the context of that discussion."
The Bush administration has so far refused to admit that two officials -- National Security Council Asia specialist Dennis Wilder and the State Department's chief Taiwan staffer, Clifford Hart -- traveled to Taipei last Tuesday for what sources say was a six-hour meeting with Chen to convince him to drop plans to eliminate the unification council and guidelines.
Pressed by reporters, Ereli said, "Well, there are two meetings that are being discussed. One is between [a US National Security Council] official and officials in Taiwan. I'd leave it to the [US National Security Council] to talk about that. As far as this other meeting goes, I don't know. I hadn't heard about it. I can't confirm it because I don't have the facts."
As tentative as that statement was, it was the first time that the department has even conceded the existence of secret US official trips to Taiwan, which in the past have taken place at times of particular strain in US-Taiwan relations.
Meanwhile, the Washington-based Nelson Report said on Tuesday that the Wilder-Hart visits were aimed to head off an expected Feb. 28 announcement eliminating the unification council and "other, even more risky moves" by Chen.
The two envoys "did not receive what the US would define as reassurances by Chen on the core [Bush] administration concerns," the Nelson Report said.
"In fact," editor Chris Nelson said, the Bush administration is resigned to the fact that "it's a done deal" that Chen will make the announcement on Feb. 28.
It is not known whether Chen told this to Wilder and Hart directly, but the administration "still wants to hear from Chen" whether he will abide by the "five noes" he stated during his 2000 and 2004 inauguration addresses, which included a commitment to retain the unification council and guidelines.
Nelson, who first reported earlier this month that US President George W. Bush was personally angry at Chen over his Lunar New Year address pledge to do away with the unification mechanisms, said the administration is sympathetic to Chen's domestic constraints on the issue.
Nelson, citing top administration officials, said that such sympathy could help sway Washington's attitudes on cross-strait issues "in the event that President Chen can convincingly reassure the US on his longer-term intentions ... an opportunity which was offered [by Wilder and Hart] last week, apparently to no avail."
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