Taiwan blames prez plane re-route on US

Taipei, May 5:

Taiwan’s foreign minister today blamed US officials for revealing information that led to President Chen Shui-bian’s plane changing its flight plan in mid-air and making an unscheduled landing in the United Arab Emirates.

Chen’s plane left Taipei early Thursday morning with the intention of landing in Beirut, on its way to Asuncion, Paraguay, but landed in Abu Dhabi instead after China brought pressure on Lebanese authorities to deny it permission to land.

Foreign Minister James Huang said Taiwan informed the US on Wednesday that Chen might drop the plan to transit through Anchorage, Alaska, the only option the Americans gave him after turning down a Taiwanese request for a more centrally located US transit point.

Taipei passed on the information about the route to US officials “based on our mutual trust ... but they told the news media,” Huang said. He was referring to comments by US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Wednesday that Chen would not be transiting Anchorage en route to Paraguay.

Huang said McCormack’s revelation led Taiwanese news media to identify Beirut as an alternative transit stop, prompting China’s envoy to Lebanon to intervene with Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.

“The strength of their suppression was far beyond (what) anyone could have imagined,” he said.

Huang’s comments mark a new turn in the continuing diplomatic spat between the United States and Taiwan over Chen’s flight route to Latin America. Taiwanese media reported earlier in the week that Chen had originally asked to transit New York and San Francisco, in keeping with his efforts to raise the island’s diplomatic profile.