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Taiwan to mull letter of request for purchase of F-16C/Ds: official

Taiwan to mull letter of request for purchase of F-16C/Ds: official

Taipei, May 1 (CNA) Taiwan will continue to negotiate with the United States on the sale of F-16C/D jet fighters and will carefully mull the possibility of submitting a letter of request to buy the high-tech warplanes, a defense ministry official said Tuesday. "(We) will take every factor into consideration and carefully devise a plan in the best interests of our country," Ministry of National Defense spokesman Maj. Gen. Luo Shou-he said. However, there has been no new progress in the efforts to procure the aircraft, he said. Luo was responding to a statement by Rupert Hammond-Chambers, head of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, that the time is right for Taiwan to again request price and availability data for the F-16 C/Ds. Commenting on the issue, Bruce Linghu, head of the Foreign Ministry's Department of North American Affairs, said the U.S. and Taiwan are both "on the same page." "The United States fully understands Taiwan's military air power needs," Linghu said, in response to a reporter's question at a press briefing. "When the time is right, we will naturally get a positive response," he added. Linghu reiterated that Washington is committed to arms sales to Taiwan under the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and Six Assurances. The TRA, enacted in 1979 when Washington decided to sever ties with Taipei, obliges the U.S. to help Taiwan defend itself. In 1982, then U.S. President Ronald Reagan offered Taiwan six assurances, which included a promise that the U.S. would not set a date for termination of arms sales to Taiwan. In response to a reporter's question Monday, Hammond-Chambers said it was an "excellent time" for Taiwan to again push to acquire advanced F-16 C/D fighters from the U.S., after having been rejected in the past. Hammond-Chambers' remarks were made against the backdrop of a recent White House letter to U.S. Republican Senator John Cornyn, saying the U.S. will consider a proposal to sell new fighter jets to Taiwan as one of the options to resolve the disparity in numbers of fighters across the Taiwan Strait. The letter, signed by White House aide Robert L. Nabors, was a response to a written request by Cornyn for U.S. President Barack Obama to address the quantitative imbalance in Taiwan and China's fighter fleets. Taiwan's defense ministry has said it welcomes the White House's gesture to consider sales of F-16 C/D jet fighters. Taiwan, whose fleet of F-16 A/B fighters is aging, has repeatedly asked to purchase F-16 C/D multi-role combat aircraft from the U.S., to no avail. In September 2011, the U.S. approved a retrofit and training package for Taiwan's F-16 A/B fighters at an estimated cost of US$5.85 billion, but Taiwan is still eager to acquire the more advanced fighters to help address the air-power imbalance across the Taiwan Strait. (By Elaine Hou and Nancy Liu)