Sun, Nov 05, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Presidential Office in crisis: US hopes for stable relations even if Lu were to take over

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Still reeling from the shock of first lady Wu Shu- jen's (吳淑珍) indictment on charges of forgery and corruption, Washington officials were closed-mouthed on Friday as academics, officials and other Taiwan-watchers struggled to figure out what the news from Taipei means, and what the future holds.

The State Department called the issue an "internal matter," but expressed the hope that US-Taiwan relations would remain unchanged even if President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) resigned and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) took over.

Beyond that, officials refused to discuss the matter, even on the condition that they are not identified.

Sources say that this shows that the State Department and other US officials did not expect that the prosecution would act so fast or that Wu would be indicted, with the president being personally implicated in the alleged corruption scheme as well.

"We view this as an internal matter that should be dealt with by the established Constitution and laws of Taiwan," State Department Spokesman Sean Mc-Cormack said at his daily press briefing.

"We are confident that the matter will be dealt with according to the established constitution and laws," he added.

Asked whether the Bush administration would be upset if Chen quit and Lu took over, McCormack refused to be nailed down.

"This presupposes some change in the leadership, and I'm not going to get into such matters," he said, to the disappointment of the reporters who expected a more substantive reply.

He did say, however, that if Lu took over, "I expect that our relationship will continue as it is right now."

Efforts to get other US officials to expand on this failed, with no official willing to comment whether what McCormack said meant that the US would find Lu as president acceptable.

American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Stephen Young is believed to have avoided a meeting with her during his round of visits with Taiwanese leaders after his recent briefing round in Washington.

Despite the official depart-ment's reticence, the administration is said to be very concerned over the situation, compounded by a lack of understanding of Taiwan's domestic politics in Washington, and the myriad possibilities that Wu's indictment would have in Taipei.

Most observers in Washington declined to comment on the situation in view of the uncertainties that the indictment has created.

However, two former AIT chairmen contacted by the Taipei Times did venture some views.

The US response is expected to be "very guarded," former AIT chairman Richard Bush said early on Friday after the news of the indictment reached Washington.

"This is Taiwan domestic politics and the administration will have to limit judgments or comments that could be regarded as expressing judgments one way or the other," he said.

"Any time a legal process is involved, one has to be cautious," he said.

What the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) does in coming days will be the key to the US response, Bush added.

"The DPP will come to its own conclusions. They are very thoughtful people and I don't want to prejudge the conclusions they come to. It's a legal process. All that has happened is that charges have been made. It's only one stage of the process," he said.

Another former AIT chairman, Nat Bellocchi, said he was "shocked" over the indictment.

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