Sat, May 06, 2006 - Page 3 News List

US will still let Chen transit in Alaska

MIXED SIGNALSThe foreign minister reportedly said the president will stop in Alaska on the way home, but the US and the TECRO office hadn't been notified of that

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

The US government said on Thursday that it would be willing to let President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) touch down in Alaska on his way home from his trip to Paraguay and Costa Rica next week, despite his last-minute decision to skip a stopover in that state en route to South America.

Meanwhile, although Foreign Minister James Huang (黃志芳) reportedly told media accompanying Chen to Paraguay that the presidential party would stop at Anchorage on the way back to Taiwan, Washington remained in the dark Thursday afternoon about the decision.

"We are still up in the air," a spokesman from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) told the Taipei Times.

The State Department echoed that statement.

"It is an open question whether on the way back [Chen] will transit the United States," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "At this point, we don't have a request for that, but if we do receive the request, we will certainly look at it consistent with our past practice on that question."

However, another department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the US offer of Alaska transits covered both trips, coming and going, and that no further application was necessary.

If Chen chooses to stop off at Anchorage, "we will be more than happy to facilitate that transit," the official said.

"The offer stands," another State Department official said.

The reaction of the Bush administration in its handling of the Chen visa request stems in part from the difficulties the administration is still having in dealing with the missteps that accompanied Chinese President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) visit to Washington last month, sources told the Taipei Times.

The National Security Council (NSC) is still trying to sort out the problems during the White House welcoming ceremony for Hu, and so was extra cautious in handling the Chen visa request, sources say.

Those problems included an announcer calling the Chinese national anthem as the anthem of the Republic of China, a Falun Gong activist heckling Hu while he spoke, the absence of Chinese flags in the vicinity of the White House during the visit, and an incident in which Bush tugged roughly at Hu's sleeve.

US officials reportedly think that Beijing believes the incidents were staged on purpose to embarrass Hu.

In addition, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who is in charge of the department's China policy, is traveling and could not give his attention to the issue.

In any event, one source says that NSC Asia policy chief Dennis Wilder warned Chen earlier this year, when they were negotiating a solution to Chen's proposal to mothball the National Unification Council and guidelines, that Chen's actions could affect the transit arrangements for his visit to Latin American visit, which were at that time on the drawing board.

Apparently, the unexpected problems with the Hu visit and other problems facing the Bush administration exacerbated the lingering unhappiness with Chen's move on the NUC, convincing top State Department officials to offer Alaska as the least contentious transit stop.

In his press briefing, McCormack refused to say why the Bush administration banned Chen from visiting the contiguous US by rejecting Chen's reported wish to visit such cities as New York and Los Angeles.

"We thought [the offer for an Anchorage transit] was appropriate. We take each of these requests on a case-by-case basis," he said.

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