Tue, May 09, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Chen likely to return via Alaska, MOFA says

HOMEWARD BOUND An official said Anchorage was the most likely transit stop, adding that decisions were being made to fit changing circumstances

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian, center, arrives at San Jose international airport in Costa Rica on Sunday. Chen was to attend the inauguaration of Costa Rican president-elect and 1987 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Anchorage remains the top choice for a stopover in the US when President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) returns from his eight-day state visit to Latin America, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Kau (高英茂) said yesterday.

"As far as I know, the Presidential Office, the National Security Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are still weighing all the options, but it appears that they will stop in Anchorage on their way home," Kau said.

"If the president would like to make a stopover in Miami, as the media speculate, this would still require consultation with the US government," he said.

Kao made the remarks at a meeting of the legislature's Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday morning. Kao was invited by the committee to report on the progress of the nation's bid to join the World Health Assembly (WHA) as an observer.

`Unusual'

Kau said that while the foreign ministry would remain in close contact with the Presidential Office and National Security Council and provide suggestions, many decisions were being made in accordance with changing circumstances, taking into account that Chen's overseas trip this time is quite "unusual" and "unique."

Chen had initially wanted to make transit stops in New York, San Francisco or Miami before continuing on to Paraguay and Costa Rica, but the US only offered Hawaii and Anchorage, Alaska, as options.

In a move that was seen as an expression of displeasure at the US' rejection of a request to transit through the US mainland, Chen made surprise stopovers in Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam instead of going through Anchorage, on the way to Paraguay.

Kau said that the situation was more complicated this time and therefore the president was forced to make a "political" decision.

"Extraordinary times require extraordinary decisions," Kau said. "It is very unusual that the US government offered Anchorage as a transit option for refueling only. It is an offer that we find unacceptable."

Kau, however, said that "there is much room for improvement" in the arrangement of Chen's trip and that they would "sincerely review" the matter.

In other developments, with the WHA scheduled to hold its annual meeting on May 22, Kau announced that Chen is scheduled to hold a videoconference with European media and health experts on May 19, as part of the nation's campaign to join the WHO.

The WHA -- the WHO's governing body -- will convene its annual conference in Geneva from May 22 to May 27.

Kau said that while details were still being arranged, the focus of the videoconference would be on the necessity of the nation's accession to the WHO.

Asked whether the US government would continue to support the nation's bid this year following the transit spat, Kau said he believed the US government's position on the matter remained unchanged because they are two different issues.

Although the overall international situation is better this year, Kau said he expected to see challenges in the nation's WHA bid because of China's suppression.

Health gains?

He, however, indicated that Taiwan might gain some new ground, especially in an appeal for "meaningful participation."

Kau said "meaningful participation" includes taking part in the WHO's global outbreak alert and response network, the agency's technical conferences and the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005.

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