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Govt 'needs to study Nasa plan'

General Sirichai Dittakul, right, Royal Thai Army chief of staff, welcomes General Jing Zhiyuan, member of the Central Military Commission and commander of the Second Artillery Corps of the People

General Sirichai Dittakul, right, Royal Thai Army chief of staff, welcomes General Jing Zhiyuan, member of the Central Military Commission and commander of the Second Artillery Corps of the People

PM not commit to US's Tuesday deadline; proposal not raised at meet with Chinese official, says Sukampol

The government will release all the details of a proposed Nasa research project to be based in Thailand, but needs time to study it before making a final decision, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday.

She did not make a clear commitment on whether the Cabinet would consider the project at its meeting next Tuesday as proposed earlier by Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul.

The Cabinet will consider the proposal from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration once all concerned agencies have provided their opinions on the project, Yingluck said.

Nasa has asked to use the U-tapao airbase in Rayong for its weather research aircraft in August and September. The United States has told the Thai government it needs a decision by Tuesday to have adequate time to prepare its equipment.

The project became a political issue when the opposition Democrat Party accused the government of offering the use of the airbase in exchange for a US entry visa for fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and has demanded that the government bring the proposal before Parliament for debate.

Yingluck said the project was first proposed during the previous government under the Democrats, led by Abhisit Vejjajiva. She said her government would unveil all details of the project when the concerned agencies finished their studies.

"We will make it straightforward, and will study everything. We'll do it for the benefit of the national interest," she said.

The government os ready to bring the US proposal before Parliament for approval in accordance with Article 190 of the Constitution if the Council of State and the Foreign Ministry's Treaties and Legal Affairs departments recommended it, she said.

However, both agencies have already said that the Nasa proposal does not require parliamentary approval under Article 190. The Cabinet has the authority to approve it, they said.

Abhisit, who was prime minister in the previous government, said he wanted to debate the Nasa project in Parliament, as the government might add some hidden conditions to the project, and it might affect national security.

Nasa signed a joint statement with the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Gistda) in September 2010, during the Abhisit administration, stating their intention to conduct the research.

Nasa said on its website that the project, known as the Southeast Asia Composition, Cloud, Climate Coupling Regional Study (SEAC4RS), would be conducted in August and September this year.

The deployment will address key questions regarding the influence of Asian emissions on clouds, climate and air quality, as well as fundamental satellite observability of the system, it said.

Scientific observations will focus specifically on the role of the Asian monsoon circulation and convective redistribution in governing upper-atmospheric composition and chemistry, it said.

However, the Democrats, along with some senators and academics, suspect that the US might have a hidden agenda, using the research as a front for military moves to contain China in the Asia-Pacific region.

Nasa said its ER-2 high-altitude aircraft would fly into the stratosphere at the edge of space, while the National Science Foundation's G-V and Nasa's DC-8 aircraft sampled the atmosphere below it.

An array of sensors spread across the region at locations on the ground and in the South China Sea will observe the atmosphere from the bottom up, Nasa said.

China has raised concerns over the project and dispatched a commander to Bangkok to discuss the US project.

Defence Minister Sukampol Suwannathat said he held discussions yesterday with China's Central Military Commissioner Jing Zhiyuan on issues relating to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, but did not talk about the Nasa project.

Jing, who is also commander of the 2nd Artillery Force of the People's Liberation Army, said the armed forces of Thailand and China had conducted mutually beneficial exchanges in the forms of high-level visits, security consultations, joint training, personnel training, academic exchanges and disaster relief, according to Xinhua news agency.

After a meeting with the Chinese commander, Sukampol met with US Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro. The defence minister said the US official was not here to pressure Bangkok on the Nasa project.

The US has a clear schedule for the project, and the final decision is up to the Thai government, Sukampol said. The Defence Ministry has already backed the project, since it has no impact on security matters, he said.

"I understand many people might be concerned over security matters, but please trust me, as [I am] the one who is taking care of this matter. I'm not betraying the country. I'm not allowing any foreigners to install missiles in our land," he said.




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