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September 10, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Blocked arms sales
The Bush administration is bowing to pressure from China to curb arms sales to Taiwan at a time when the Pentagon is urgently trying to get the island's government to buy U.S. defensive arms.

According to U.S. officials, Taiwan's government has sent the administration formal letters stating that it plans to buy eight diesel submarines, 12 P-3 aircraft and six new Patriot anti-missile batteries and associated PAC-3 interceptor missiles.

"All three items were approved by the U.S. government several years ago and Taiwan's legislature is currently considering a special budget of $18 billion to fund the programs," one official tells us.

The Pentagon has done the needed paperwork to put the sales in motion, but the White House has decided to put it off by delaying formal notification of Congress. The move was ordered by the National Security Council staff, where pro-China official Dennis Wilder recently took charge of the China portfolio.

The NSC told the State Department and Pentagon to delay congressional notification until after Taiwan passes the special budget, which may not happen until October.

Putting off the notification follows National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's recent trip to Beijing, where Chinese leaders urged her not to sell arms to Taiwan.

Officials tell us the notification delay appears related to the Chinese appeals.

The White House is claiming the notification is being put off until after Taiwan's legislature approves a special budget of $18 billion to fund the arms, something that has not been done for other U.S. allies.

The delay will prevent defense contractors from getting to work on arms that the Pentagon says Taiwan urgently needs to meet the growing military imbalance, namely China's 650 short-range missiles and new warships.

Officials said the Taiwanese legislature is unlikely to pass its budget until October and that means the window for notifying Congress will close. Congressional notification then could be pushed back until March.

One official said the Pentagon has warned for years that "the threat to Taiwan will become critical in the 2005-2008 time frame" and is a major reason the administration has been pressuring Taiwan to invest in missile defense and anti-submarine warfare.

"There is literally no time to lose in providing these badly needed deterrents," the official said.

Politically, pro-China officials are suspected of putting off the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan until after the election, when a possible administration of John Kerry likely would cancel the arms sale package altogether.

President Bush stated in April 2001 that the United States would do "whatever it takes" to help Taiwan defend itself. But since then pro-China officials have blocked all significant U.S. arms transfers.

Free speech
One frequent question asked around Washington is: Where's Rummy?

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld does not hold as many entertaining press conferences as in the first two years of the war on terror. Some pundits have jumped to the conclusion that he's been muzzled in a presidential election season where setbacks in Iraq are laid at his feet.

But Mr. Rumsfeld tells us his lower profile, and that of Gen. John Abizaid at U.S. Central Command, is designed to limit the American voice and highlight the Iraqi voice.

"We made a conscious decision, as sovereignty was transferred, it was important to have the Iraqi face on their government. It is their government. It's their country," he told us this week. "So the daily press briefings by Americans out there discontinued and we lightened up somewhat. ... We are not in the business of, on a daily basis, talking about Iraq. That's for the Iraqi leadership and they're doing it."

We concluded our interview by asking, "So no one has muzzled Don Rumsfeld?" The secretary smiled.

"Would you like that assignment?" chimed in Larry DiRita, his spokesman.

Departure date
Despite what you read in the press, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld does not have a departure date. That's what the man himself says. We reported in this column last month that the word is being passed inside the building that, if President Bush is re-elected, Mr. Rumsfeld would leave in mid- or late 2005. This would give his successor sufficient time to build a legacy.

Asked about the report, Mr. Rumsfeld said, "Do you believe all that stuff you read in the newspaper? ... Was that in your newspaper? Ah, my goodness. They must have sources that are amazing because I haven't talked to even my wife about it."

Our sources continue to say that "the word is being passed" to look for the war secretary to leave sometime in 2005.

Cycle safety
You would think the Air Force's prime concern is air safety. It is, but there is another vehicle for which the service wants all airmen to be safety-conscious: ground-hugging motorcycles.

"Air Force people can never back off from being vigilant about safety throughout the year," said a message to the troops last week. "We all must take an active role in motorcycle safety, whether in control of a bike or behind the wheel of a car."

It adds, "Look out for motorcyclists. You can often hear them before you see them."

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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