Sun, Aug 12, 2007 - Page 3 News List

President to stop over in Alaska

TRANSIT The Presidential Office said that Chen Shui-bian was willing to endure `humiliation' to carry out his mission of visiting the nation's Central American allies

By Charles Snyder and Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTERS IN WASHINGTON AND TAIPEI

The Presidential Office confirmed yesterday that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) would stop over in Alaska on his way to and from Central America.

Observers in Washington have said that the US decision to limit Chen's transit to and from Central America later this month to short stops in Alaska was a rebuke after Chen's push for a referendum on applying for UN entry using the name "Taiwan."

Presidential Office spokesman David Lee (李南陽) said in Taipei yesterday that Chen was willing to "endure humiliation and carry a heavy burden" to perform his task of visiting the nation's allies in Central America.

The president cherishes the friendship and relations with the US government, Lee added.

As the main purpose of Chen's trip is to cement ties with the nation's diplomatic allies in Central America after Costa Rica switched allegiance to China, Chen does not want the issue of his transit stops to blur the focus of this trip, Lee said.

Chen is scheduled to leave for Central America on Aug. 20 to attend a summit in Honduras.

Despite US opposition, Lee said Chen would continue to push for a referendum on Taiwan's UN bid.

The referendum issue has touched a raw nerve among State Department and other administration officials at a time when the US needs Chinese cooperation on a number of international fronts.

As such, Taiwan's transit request was the first opportunity the department and others in the administration had to make their displeasure known in a concrete way, observers say.

One source said that during Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Frank Hsieh's (謝長廷) visit to Washington last month, the referendum issue dominated his talks with senior administration officials.

In the discussions, "almost all of the focus was on the referendum," one source said.

The State Department on Friday confirmed that the US had decided to let Chen transit through Alaska, but said that the details of the trip and the transit had yet to be ironed out.

"We understand that the details and dates of the president's travel have not yet been finalized," a department official told the Taipei Times.

"That said, in keeping with our long-standing policy, and in strict conformance with existing criteria, the United States is prepared to facilitate transit in both directions [to and from Central America] through Alaska in August. These arrangements are intended only to facilitate transit to a third country," the official said.

While the official would not discuss the basis for the decision to allow the stopovers in Alaska, she said that the decision was "in accordance with our `one China' policy, along with the three US-China joint communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act."

It was also in keeping with the criteria of ensuring the safety, comfort, convenience and "the dignity of the traveler," the official said.

Chen's trip comes just weeks after the US House of Representatives approved without objection a resolution calling on the Washington administration to allow the Taiwanese president and other high-level Taiwanese officials to visit Washington freely for talks with the US government on matters of joint concern to the two countries.

Taiwan's lobbyists in Washington are making preparations for the resolution to be introduced in the Senate after Congress returns from a month-long summer recess on Sept. 4.

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