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March 31, 2001; A2

Bush ponders sale of enhanced arms systems to Taiwan

By Bill Gertz

President Bush will decide in the next several weeks what arms to sell Taiwan, a White House official said yesterday.

``There has been no decision on Taiwan arms sales,'' said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The decision will be made in the next two weeks, the source told The Washington Times.

``When the decision comes, it will be based on what Taiwan needs to defend itself,'' the official said.

Mr. Bush will be getting recommendations for what weapons systems to sell the island nation from his national security advisers at the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council, the official said.

China's government has been lobbying hard against any new arms sales to Taiwan, claiming the weapons sales would renew the U.S.-Republic of China defense alliance that was abandoned in the 1970s when diplomatic ties were set with Beijing.

At an April 23 meeting between U.S. and Taiwanese officials in Washington, the United States will inform the Taiwanese what weapons on a list of some 30 arms systems have been approved for sale.

The major items on Taipei's request list include four Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers equipped with the high-technology Aegis battle management systems. The Aegis system can be used for future regional missile defense.

Other requested systems include diesel submarines that would be built outside the United States and assembled and armed here. The Taiwanese also want anti-radar missiles and Patriot anti-missile defenses.

Adm. Dennis Blair, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, told a Senate hearing earlier in the week that one option being considered is to reject sales of Aegis ships and approve sales of four less-capable Kidd-class destroyers.

The Kidd-class warships were built in the 1970s and originally were to be sold to the government of the shah of Iran. After the shah's government fell, the ships, known as ``Ayatollah-class'' destroyers, were kept by the Navy instead of being sold to Iran.

Adm. Blair said in an exchange at a hearing this week with Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that a ``lower level of missiles on the Chinese side'' would help to reduce tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

``If the Chinese continue to add 50 missiles a year and increase their accuracy, which has been their program in the past, then it doesn't take a detailed military analysis to tell you that at some point that makes a military difference and defense is not sufficient,'' Adm. Blair said.

``And it's that ratcheting up that I think does not serve the interests of either Taiwan or China, but restraint there requires restraint by China, which has not been shown yet, which I have talked to them about, and many other representatives of our government have talked to them about frequently, and I would hope we could see.''

Mr. Warner asked the four-star admiral if an ``option before the president'' is to offer the Kidd-class ships this year ``with the understanding that it substantially enhances the naval element of deterrence and it would provide a training base for a follow-on acquisition, if the threat persisted, for the upgraded Aegis system which would have the theater missile defense capability?''

``Exactly correct, sir,'' Adm. Blair said.

Congress, however is not likely to accept the less-capable ships. A letter circulating in the House calls for Aegis-ship sales to Taiwan and has scores of signers.

Retired Adm. Gorge Meinig, a surface warfare specialist, said the Kidd-class ships are good, but are a generation behind the Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with Aegis.

``The current Aegis ships have radar that are the most powerful ones at sea,'' Adm. Meinig said.

The Aegis ships, if sold to Taiwan, could be improved later with upgraded missiles and software for ``the longest-range engagement'' against Chinese short-range missiles, he said.

``You cannot do that with an Ayatollah-class ship,'' he said.

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