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Administration defends its unannounced Taiwan arms decision

The Obama administration is taking a lot of criticism for its as yet unannounced decision to sell Taiwan a new arms package that does not include new F-16 fighter planes, and a senior administration official used some verbal gymnastics to offer a defense of the decision without actually confirming it. "This is with regard to ...

The Obama administration is taking a lot of criticism for its as yet unannounced decision to sell Taiwan a new arms package that does not include new F-16 fighter planes, and a senior administration official used some verbal gymnastics to offer a defense of the decision without actually confirming it.

"This is with regard to Taiwan and the question of a U.S. decision one way or the other, which as you know, has not yet been formally notified to Congress with regard to the sale of F-16s," a senior administration official told reporters at the Waldolf Astoria hotel in New York on Monday evening. "Our view is that something has gotten lost in translation in the last couple of days on this issue."

The official couldn't acknowledge that reports of the sale were true, because Congress has to be notified before officials talk about foreign military sales to the press. So the official defended the decision by temporarily "assuming" the news reports were accurate.

The Obama administration is taking a lot of criticism for its as yet unannounced decision to sell Taiwan a new arms package that does not include new F-16 fighter planes, and a senior administration official used some verbal gymnastics to offer a defense of the decision without actually confirming it.

"This is with regard to Taiwan and the question of a U.S. decision one way or the other, which as you know, has not yet been formally notified to Congress with regard to the sale of F-16s," a senior administration official told reporters at the Waldolf Astoria hotel in New York on Monday evening. "Our view is that something has gotten lost in translation in the last couple of days on this issue."

The official couldn’t acknowledge that reports of the sale were true, because Congress has to be notified before officials talk about foreign military sales to the press. So the official defended the decision by temporarily "assuming" the news reports were accurate.

"I will base my comments on those assuming that those leaks are true. But of course, I can’t confirm them until after formal congressional notification this week," the official said.

"Assuming the reports leaked about the proposal to refurbish F-16s are true and that obviously can’t be confirmed even on background until a formal congressional notification later this week — weapons sales to Taiwan since 2009 will be greater than in the previous four years, and they will be double the sales that occurred between 2004 and 2008."

The official then defended the offer to Taiwan of upgrades for its aging fleet of F-16 A/B fighters and the rejection of Taiwan’s request for 66 new F-16 C/D fighters, again without confirming that’s the administration’s decision.

"Assuming the decision is to upgrade F-16 A/B, they will provide essentially the same quality as new F-16 C/D aircraft at a far cheaper price. And Taiwan would stand to get 145 A/Bs versus only 66 C/Ds. And we’re obviously prepared to consider further sales in the future," the official said.

The official then argued that the Obama administration has been active on strengthening relations with Taiwan.

"In addition, the administration has taken strong steps to deepen relations with Taiwan in concrete ways beyond this dossier, including Visa Waiver Program, education initiatives, trade and energy initiatives, and helping Taiwan to have more access to international fora like the World Health Organization."

The actual announcement of the Taiwan arms sales decision and its actual defense are expected later this week.

UPDATE:  Earlier today Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)  filed his bill to require the administration to sell at least 66 new F-16 C/D multirole fighter jets to Taiwan as an amendment to the Generalized System of Preferences bill that is currently on the Senate floor, which is a vehicle for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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