President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) plan to stop over in the US during his Central America trip later this month is being arranged for the purpose of transit only, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) officials said yesterday.
Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang (黃志芳) said the main purpose of the trip was to allow Chen to take part in the sixth leadership summit between Taiwan and its Central American allies, to be held in Honduras. He urged the media not to "focus all their attention on the transit plan."
Huang said the heads of state of most of the invited allies will attend the event in person.
Meanwhile, a high-ranking MOFA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, admitted that Taiwan's decision to push for a referendum on the UN issue despite US opposition has led Washington to adopt a less flexible attitude toward Chen's request to stop over in the US.
Unlike in the past when the president always took in some private activities during his transit stops in the US, Chen will try to keep the stops as simple as possible and has not considered other possible countries for transit stops, the official said.
On Washington's disapproval of Taiwan's referendum plan, the government has explained to US officials that the plan is not based on Chen's personal preferences but on the desire of the majority of Taiwanese, he said.
The government has told US officials that the referendum will allow the international community to gauge the strong determination of Taiwanese to join the UN, he added.
There have been reports that Washington has refused to allow Chen to stop over in the continental US or stay overnight during the transit stops as a way of showing its displeasure at the government's plan to push for a referendum on joining the UN under the name of "Taiwan."
The Chinese-language China Times said yesterday that Chen would consider abandoning his plan to stop over in the US and transit in another country if Washington opted not to allow him to set foot in the continental US.
The report said Chen's plane might fly over Africa and Europe, instead of North America, on his way back to Taiwan, a plan which could include a stopover on the island of Curacao, located in the southern part of the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela.
Commenting on the report, Acting Secretary-General of the Presidential Office Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰) said the US remains the president's first choice in terms of its geographical location, and he dismissed the report as speculation.
Cho said he was not able to respond to "hypothetical questions" such as what would happen if the US government refused to allow Chen to stop over in the continental US.
Cho said that the president was determined to protect Taiwan's sovereignty and dignity and that he believed this position would be supported by the US and other countries.