Top U.S. Officials Stalling Taiwan Arms Package
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Top Bush administration officials are delaying a long-promised $11 billion arms package for Taiwan, raising the possibility that the issue will be left for the next president, according to sources inside and outside the administration.
The package was originally proposed by the Bush administration in April 2001, shortly after Bush took office, but it faced repeated delays in approval by Taiwan's legislature. Now that funding for the package has been approved -- and Taiwan's new government has indicated that it wants the arms as well as a separate package of F-16 aircraft -- both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley have put the brakes on the deal, sources said.
No official change in policy appears to have been made, sources said, but administration inaction has resulted in a de facto freeze. As part of the process of approving military sales to foreign countries, the administration must send a formal notification to Congress, which then has 30 days to raise questions. But the effort to send the notifications has slowed because of inertia at the administration's most senior levels.
Rice, for instance, has been urged by the State Department's East Asian Affairs bureau and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to forward an official recommendation to the president to issue the notifications, but she has not yet done so. Hadley, meanwhile, has limited the discussions on the issue between the White House and State, further slowing the process.
The notifications would need to be delivered at least a month before an expected mid-October congressional adjournment if the sales are to proceed this year, experts said.
Taiwan's government privately had requested that the administration not send the notifications in the next few weeks as China and Taiwan complete negotiations on launching charter flights and expanding tourism between the two countries, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the discussions. But top officials such as Rice were irritated by Taiwan's protracted domestic wrangling over the sale and appear wary of irritating China during the negotiations over North Korea's nuclear programs.
At stake are $11 billion in weapons deals, including 30 Apache helicopters, 60 Black Hawk helicopters, eight diesel-electric submarines and four Patriot air defense missile batteries, which Taiwan's legislature approved in separate budgets in June and December of last year. For two years, the administration has also refused to accept a "letter of request" from Taiwan for 66 F-16 C/D fighters -- estimated to cost $5 billion -- that would lead to a potential sale.
"Our assessment at this time is the Bush administration has this package on hold for the foreseeable future," said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council. "We need to make a decision now, or this will slip into the next administration."
Supporters of Taiwan -- which China considers a renegade province -- argue that the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act requires the United States to provide defensive arms to Taiwan based solely on its needs.
The White House referred calls to the State Department. Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, said that "there is no change in U.S. government policy" and that "the administration faithfully implement the Taiwan Relations Act."
He added that "there is an internal, interagency process for the U.S. government to consider sales to Taiwan" and "when the interagency process achieves a final decision for any specific arms sale, we will notify Congress."