TAIWAN ARMS THAW
The Pentagon is expected to notify Congress in the next several days that it wants approval to sell Taiwan a major arms package, which would end a freeze on arms sales to the island state imposed before the Beijing Olympics, according to a senior defense official.
The arms package is expected to include seven weapons systems but not advanced F-16 jets sought by the island, said Jason Yuan, Taiwan’s chief diplomatic representative in the United States.
The de facto Taiwanese ambassador told reporters and editors at The Washington Times that he expects the Pentagon to make the notification before Congress adjourns around Sept. 26. “I’m optimistic because we don’t think we’re going to get any opposition from the Congress,” Mr. Yuan said of the formal notification and expected 30-day congressional approval process.
Mr. Yuan disputed the widely reported arms freeze that was put in place and acknowledged by Adm. Timothy J. Keating, the U.S. Pacific Command leader.
As first reported in this space in May, the arms freeze was backed by U.S. Ambassador to China Clark T. Randt Jr., who urged President Bush to temporarily cut off sales to avoid upsetting China before the Olympics.
Mr. Yuan said political squabbling in Taiwan caused delays in approving Taipei’s arms budget, which finally passed the legislature in June.
Mr. Yuan said that after the inauguration in May of Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou, the Bush administration asked for a “direct message” from Taiwan about whether the government wanted the arms.
“We made it very very clear from the top down to here,” Mr. Yuan said of Taiwan’s need for the arms deal. “We said we’re serious, [the arms budget] already passed the [Taiwan] congress. Please notify the [U.S.] Congress.”
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell declined to say when the arms-sale notification would go to Congress, and he said the package remains under interagency review. “When the interagency process achieves a final decision for any specific arms sales, we will notify Congress,” he said in an e-mail.
Mr. Yuan said “time is short” for the notification and that if it is not made before Congress ends its current session, the contentious budgeting process in Taiwan will have to be repeated, beginning in January.
The arms package is expected to include most or all of the following requested arms: E-2T surveillance aircraft upgrades; Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems; a feasibility study for building eight diesel-electrical submarines; submarinelaunched harpoon missiles; transport and attack helicopters; and a midrange anti-armor missile.
Mr. Yuan said Taiwan also had budgeted for the purchase of advanced F-16 jets to replace older Taiwanese indigenous fighters, but the Bush administration is not expected to approve jet sales until the other arms are purchased first.
All the arms are defensive weapons needed to help Taiwan engage in a dialogue with mainland China, Mr. Yuan said. “Defense items [are] the key,” he said. “If we don’t have strength, how can you open up a dialogue with them? They still have a thousand missiles aimed at us.”
Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at email@example.com.