Washington, April 7 (CNA) US Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) is pressing for arms sales to Taiwan while aggressively supporting a bill designed to strengthen military ties with the island, his spokesman said on Friday.
John Czwartacki dismissed as an "irresponsible piece of journalism" a report in Friday's Washington Times that Lott intended to kill the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA) in exchange for the administration's promise to sell four Aegis guided-missile destroyers to the island.
Lott "wants both the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act and a robust package of arms for Taiwan", Czwartacki stressed.
President Bill Clinton's administration opposes the TSEA, which calls for closer military ties with Taiwan, and is reviewing Taiwan's request to purchase the four Aegis destroyers.
Claiming it will tilt the power balance across the Taiwan Strait and embroil the United States more deeply in the Taipei-Beijing dispute, Clinton's administration had lobbied against the TSEA even before the bill cruised through the House of Representatives on Oct. 26. It has since been shelved by the Senate at the request of the White House.
By the same token, the Pentagon is being cautious in weighing the sale of the destroyers that would address the island's weakness in defenses against a Beijing missile attack.
The Washington Times said Lott, one of the co-sponsors of the TSEA, tried to use the bill as leverage against the government to press it for concessions on arms sales to Taiwan.
If the Pentagon approves the deal, two of the four destroyers -- with a price tag of US$1 billion each -- will be built in Lott's home state of Mississippi, and will boost the senator's re-election campaign in November.
The newspaper quoted sources as saying that defense officials opted to offer Taiwan a "watered-down" version of the destroyer without the air defense system or Tomahawk cruise missiles. (By Jay Chen & Maubo Chang)