Washington, Sept. 16 (CNA) The United States will offer Taiwan a US$4.2 billion upgrade of its aging F-16 A/B fighter fleet but not the more advanced F-16 C/D fighters Taiwan covets at this time, the U.S. State Department told Congress Friday, according to a senior congressional aide.
In a closed-door briefing on the arms sale to the Senate and House committees on foreign relations, the State Department said upgrading the F-16 A/B fighter planes will be able to meet Taiwan's defense needs at the present stage, said the staffer.
State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner would not comment on the matter at a regular news conference Friday and did not respond to a Washington Times report that the Obama Administration has decided against the sale of 66 F-16 C/D fighters, despite several requests from Taipei to modernize its air force.
Toner said the U.S. government does not comment on foreign weapons sales before Congress has been given formal notification.
Should the U.S. decide not to sell Taiwan the more advanced F-16 C/D jets, it could be considered a victory for Beijing.
Taiwan considers the more advanced planes vital to maintaining its air defenses at a time when China is engaged in a massive military build-up.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the U.S. nixed the sale to maintain military relations with China, which cut off military ties with Washington after President Barack Obama authorized US$6.4 billion in arms sales to Taiwan in January 2010.
But it also said the F-16 C/Ds are "still in the picture," and that given the swell in support for the F-16 C/D sale in both houses of Congress, the decision on the F-16 A/Bs did not rule out a sale of the more advanced planes at a later date.
With the U.S. election drawing nearer, the number of jobs at stake on the F-16 production line -- though not overwhelming -- might also represent the sort of symbolic move that President Obama cannot avoid considering.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) recently introduced legislation that would require the sale of the 66 F-16 C/D fighters, and a House version also is in the works, according to the Washington Post.
Cornyn reacted angrily to Friday's developments.
"If the reports are true, today's capitulation to communist China by the Obama Administration marks a sad day in American foreign policy, and it represents a slap in the face to a strong ally and long-time friend," Cornyn said in a statement issued by his office.
Meanwhile,, Tseng Yung-chuan, deputy speaker of Taiwan's Legislature who is currently in the U.S. with a delegation of lawmakers, said Friday that the Obama Administration has yet to make a final decision on the F-16 C/D jet fighters.
Tseng said that if the U.S. approves an F-16 A/B upgrade but not the sale of new F-16 C/Ds, then "we'll continue to solicit the purchase of the latter, and we've clearly expressed our stance to the United States."
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, said the Obama Administration must first brief the Congress on the arms sales then wait for 20 days before formally notifying the Congress.
"Our expectation is that the F-16 A/B program will be sent to the Hill, but there will be no movement on the new buy F-16 C/D replacement fighters," he said in an e-mail to CNA.
In China, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regular briefing Friday that China strongly opposed U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and urged the U.S. to abide by its three communiqu廥 with China to stop the arms sales.
She said both sides should continue to enhance mutual respect and handle sensitive issues in an appropriate way to avoid unnecessary disturbances and damages to bilateral ties.
(By Jay Chou, Tony Liao, Charles Kang, Lee Shu-hua and Lilian Wu)