The Cable

45 senators tell Obama: Sell Taiwan some F-16s already!

Unless the United States sells Taiwan some new fighter jets, the military balance between Taiwan and China will continue to spiral out of control to the detriment of both Taiwanese and U.S. security, 45 U.S. senators wrote on Thursday to President Barack Obama.

"Taiwan desperately needs new tactical fighter aircraft," the senators wrote in the May 26 letter, obtained by The Cable. In light of the fact that China continues to pile up missiles, ships, aircraft, and submarines on its shore opposite Taiwan (which Beijing still considers a breakaway province), the senators want Obama to sell Taiwan 66 new F-16 fighters of the C and D variants.

The letter was spearheaded by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and James Inhofe (R-OK), the two senators who resurrected the Senate Taiwan Caucus in January just in time for the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao. But it was also signed by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the two leaders of the brand-new China Working Group, which was created to build ties between Congress and Beijing.

The senators admit they have more than one motivation for selling F-16 fighters to Taiwan.

"We are deeply concerned that further delay of the decision to sell F-16s to Taiwan could result in the closure of the F-16 production line, and urge you to expedite this defense export process before the line closes," they wrote.

Over 4,500 F-16s have been produced and deployed by the U.S. and over a dozen other countries in the last 40 years, but the U.S. air force no longer purchases the plane and producer Lockheed Martin depends on foreign sales to keep the F-16 business going.

But there's little prospect the Obama administration will approve the sale of F-16s to Taiwan anytime soon. Its decision to sell Taiwan $6.2 billion of arms in early 2010 provoked a reaction from Beijing that scuttled U.S.-China military-to-military cooperation for over a year -- and that sale didn't even include any F-16s.

"United States arms sales to Taiwan seriously damaged China's core interests and we do not want to see that happen again, neither do we hope that the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will again and further disrupt our bilateral and military-to-military relationship," Chinese Minister for National Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie said during a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Jan. 10.

Gates told the Chinese that the arms sales would continue, as they have for decades, under the Taiwan Relations Act, a U.S. law that mandates that the United States support Taiwan's self-defense.

"[I]f the relationship between China and Taiwan continued to improve and the security environment for Taiwan changed, then perhaps that would create the conditions for reexamining all of this," Gates said at a roundtable after the meeting. "But that would be an evolutionary and a long-term process, it seems to me. I don't think that's anything that's going to happen anytime soon."

Gates and Liang may get a chance to talk it over next week. Both will be in Singapore attending the 10th annual Shangri-La Dialogue hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Also in attendance at the conference in Singapore will be... your humble Cable guy.

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The Cable

Obama "personally engaged" in Russia-Georgia WTO dispute

Senior Obama administration officials have been saying for months that the United States would not get involved in the Russian-Georgian dispute over Russia's desire to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Today, it was revealed that the administration, including President Barack Obama, has been deeply involved in the dispute for a long time.

Russian accession to the WTO is a major goal of the Obama administration's "reset" policy with Russia. However, the country of Georgia, a WTO member that has longstanding grievances with its larger northern neighbor, stands in the way because new members must be admitted by consensus. Russian troops have occupied the Georgian breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, and Georgia wants concessions on customs and border administration before it agrees to allow Russian to join the WTO.

Russia and Georgia began meeting in February in Switzerland to work out a deal. In March, National Security Council Senior Director for Russia Mike McFaul said that while it's a fact that Russia cannot join the WTO unless Georgia agreed, he insisted that the United States would not try to mediate between the two countries.

"There is a process underway [to resolve the outstanding trade issues]. I don't want to prejudge it because we're not involved in it," he said. "At the end of the day this is a bilateral issue, not a trilateral issue."

Skip forward to today, when Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in France. A senior White House official told ABC News after the meeting that Obama has "personally been engaged in" the issue for months, and actually set up the Swiss negotiations and convinced both the Russian and Georgian leaders to attend.

The senior official also compared the Georgians to the Palestinians, saying that, with regard to Georgia's desire to end the Russian occupation, "[T]he WTO is not the forum in which to resolve this... like the Palestinians pursuing the vote at the U.N."

"We think that Russian accession to the WTO will be good for the Russian economy, will be good for the U.S. economy, it will be good for the world economy," Obama said today. "And we are confident that we can get this done."

There are also signs that senior administration officials have placed pressure on Georgia to make a deal. A senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable that U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, while briefing senators before a recent congressional trip that included a stop in Georgia, asked those senators to pressure Georgia to move toward acceptance of Russia's membership in the WTO.

"It was odd to hear Ambassador Kirk behind closed doors urging a group of senators to pressure Georgia to 'be reasonable' while, we understood, the administration was saying publicly it would stay out of a Georgia-Russia issue," the aide said.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, in a March interview with The Cable, said that the Russians were expecting the Obama administration to pressure Georgia into backing down, but that U.S. objectivity in the matter was key to getting it resolved.

"[The Russians] were telling the Americans that we will make a deal with you and Georgia comes as part of the package. I heard some Russians say that it just takes one call from Vice President [Joseph] Biden to Saakashvili to convince him and make him shut up. "But it's not like this and the Americans know it's not like this," Saakashvili said.

"Some Russians were saying ‘we'll let back in your wine and you will change your position.'" Saakashvili said. "We don't have any wine left to sell to the Russians. That's not the bargaining chip. We need transparency of border transactions and customs issues. That's where we need to find mutually acceptable solutions with the Russians."

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