Fri, Aug 01, 2008 - Page 3 News List

No real prospect of arms sales this year: lawmakers

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Prospects for the US and Taiwan to finalize a contract for the sale of some US$11 billion in frozen arms packages by the end of the year look less than promising, two co-chairmen of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus told Taiwanese reporters on Wednesday, as the lawmakers met on Capitol Hill with visiting Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平).

Republican Steve Chabot and Democrat Robert Wexler both said that the tight timetable Congress faces before its adjournment ahead of the US presidential election in November and the large number of economic and foreign policy issues it faces make it unlikely that the necessary congressional notification process can move ahead quickly enough to assure a timely sales contract.

“I’d like to see this defense agreement move forward, but I can’t say it looks real optimistic,” Chabot said.

Citing a long list of crucial domestic concerns, Wexler said these issues “consume most of our political high-level energy, so it’s hard to create energy on some other issues ... Realistically, I don’t want to create great expectation for people [in Taiwan].”

Congress is scheduled to recess for a month-long summer holiday at the end of next week and plans to adjourn in early October, giving it only four weeks in session left this year, with lawmakers wanting to go home early to campaign for re-election.

Wang told reporters that in his meetings with officials of the National Security Council, State Department and Pentagon, he stressed not only the cross-strait military aspect of the arms sales issue, but also the political and diplomatic dimensions as well.

He said he told officials that if the US does not sell Taiwan the arms packages for which the Legislative Yuan approved funding last year, it would send a signal to other countries that the US is no longer supporting Taiwan and that would sap support for Taiwan from other countries as well.

However, Wang disclosed that in his talks with US officials, who he did not identify, they pointed out to him items not on Taiwan’s wish list that Taiwan should also have, more up-to-date weapons that Taiwan “did not think of.”

He did not give details.

Wang’s visit appeared to score important points with Washington policymakers, Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), the de-facto Taiwan ambassador to the US, told reporters.

“On the administration side, the key person we met with summed up by saying: ‘Your visit is very helpful.’ And that says just about everything,” Wu said. “On the congressional side, we met with congressional leaders and they said that the visit is wonderful and they took note of [the arms sales], and they want [congressional approval] to be as speedy as possible whenever the administration side sends the notifications. So you can see that Speaker Wang’s visit is very important and very crucial.”

Despite his failure to get the administration to commit to unfreezing the arms packages, Wang told a press conference on Wednesday evening that he detected a positive attitude on the issue among officials he spoke with.

On Wednesday morning, Wang met his US counterpart, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which he called the most “impressive” meeting of his trip. He said he found that she had a “very positive attitude” toward Taiwan and was a big supporter of Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, including the WHO.

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