White House To Give Congress Taiwan F-16 Decision
By KATE BRANNEN and WENDELL MINNICK
WASHINGTON and TAIPEI - According to a senior congressional aide, the Obama administration plans to meet with Congress on Sept. 16 to relay its decision not to sell Taiwan new F-16 C/D fighter planes and, instead, offer an F-16 A/B upgrade package.
The White House needs to spell out why it is not willing to sell Taiwan the more advanced aircraft, a case it has yet to make, the aide said.
"The U.S. government does not comment on possible foreign military sales - including processes associated with them - unless formal congressional notification has taken place," a State Department spokesman said in an email. "Consistent with long-standing U.S. policy, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and based on our assessment of Taiwan's defense needs. Meeting Taiwan's defense needs is a deep and enduring commitment of the United States, and this administration is committed to doing so under the terms of the TRA. We authorized the sale of $6.4 billion in arms to Taiwan just last year."
According to one source, the official notification on the deal should be released by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Defense Department office that oversees foreign arms sales, some time next week.
The decision by the White House is sure to upset several politicians on Capitol Hill, who have been pushing President Obama to release an $8 billion deal for 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighter aircraft.
Taiwan military sources and government officials have said that Taiwan's de facto embassy in Washington, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), requested permission to submit a letter of request for price-and-availability data for F-16C/Ds to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) on four occasions since 2006 but was told by AIT that the request letter would not be accepted. AIT is the de facto U.S. Embassy in Taiwan.
The issue has become a Catch-22 for Taiwan. TECRO cannot submit a request letter to AIT because AIT is under State Department orders to deny it, yet TECRO is told by the State Department that the letter cannot be processed because it was not received.
In a Sept. 14 letter to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., from U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs David Adams, "Taiwan has not to date submitted a Letter of Request for additional F-16 C/Ds … we are prepared to give suitable consideration when LORs are formally submitted."
Earlier this week, new legislation was introduced in the House and the Senate that if passed and signed into law would mandate the F-16C/D sale.
U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., introduced the Taiwan Airpower Modernization Act (TAMA) on Sept. 12 for congressional review.
The new act is an effort to force the Obama administration to adhere to "obligations" under the TRA "to provide Taiwan with the military equipment it needs to maintain its self-defense capabilities," said a news release issued by the two senators.
On Sept. 14, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced a bill that also directs the sale of the F-16 C/D fighter aircraft to Taiwan and endorses a wide range of defense exports to the country.
The legislation would also require Senate confirmation for the head of the AIT, essentially elevating the position to that of an ambassador.
The senior congressional aide predicted that Ros-Lehtinen's bill would pass the House, yet is unlikely to pass the Senate. In any event, Obama has the authority to veto the bill if it ever made it to his desk.
The legislation provides lawmakers a way to voice their opposition to the White House's deal.
The decision by the Obama administration comes at an awkward time for U.S.-Taiwan military relations. The 11th U.S.-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference will be held Sept. 19-20 in Richmond, Va., with a high-level Taiwan military delegation attending. The U.S. State Department has announced for the first time that it will not attend this year.
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, expressed outrage over the decision and will continue to push Congress to pass TAMA.
"It is a political decision to not anger China, who stands to benefit most from a weaker Taiwan," Hammond-Chambers said. "Without the C/D sale, this is not a comprehensive approach to meeting Taiwan's legitimate defense needs. It will not position Taiwan to deal with all of the contingencies that confront it. A weaker Taiwan is destabilizing to the Taiwan Strait and more broadly to the strategic interests of the U.S. and its Northeast Asian allies."
Taiwan's Air Force suffered the loss of two aging F-5 fighters this week after both aircraft crashed during a night training exercise, killing three.
"Taiwan needs new airframes. The F-16 C/D makes the most sense," Hammond-Chambers said. "Congress must take a leadership role if the U.S. is to live up to its obligations in the TRA."