Exclusive: White House moves forward on three arms sales to Taiwan - sources
By David Brunnstrom, Patricia Zengerle and Mike Stone
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House is pushing three sales of advanced weapons to Taiwan and in the past few days has sent a notification of the deals to Congress for approval, three sources familiar with the situation cited on Monday.
The move ahead of the November 3rd US election is likely to anger China, which sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that has vowed to reunite by force on the mainland if necessary.
In September, Reuters reported that up to seven major weapons systems are passing through the US export process as the Trump administration increases pressure on China.
The heads of the Senate Foreign Relations Committees and the House of Representatives on Foreign Affairs have been told that three of the proposed arms sales have been approved by the U.S. State Department, which oversees sales by foreign military personnel, the sources said on condition of anonymity.
The informal notifications related to a truck-based missile launcher manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp, known as a Highly Mobile Artillery Missile System (HIMARS), long-range air-to-surface missiles from Boeing Co called SLAM-ER, and external sensor capsules for F- 16 jets that allow real-time transmission of images and data from the aircraft back to ground stations.
Reports of sales of other weapon systems, including large, sophisticated aerial drones, land-based harpoon anti-ship missiles, and underwater mines to prevent amphibious landings, have not yet reached Capitol Hill, but these were expected soon, the sources said.
A State Department spokesman said, "For political reasons, the United States will not approve or comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they are officially notified to Congress."
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committees and House Foreign Affairs Committees had the right to review and block arms sales through an informal review process before the State Department sends its formal notice to the legislature.
Taiwan's Washington office said it had no comment and China's embassy did not respond immediately.
The news that new arms sales are advancing comes after senior US officials repeatedly called last week that Taiwan should spend more on its own defense and implement military reforms to help expose China to the risks of an attempted invasion.
It comes at a time when China has significantly stepped up military activity near Taiwan, and US-China relations have plummeted to the lowest point in decades as the US elections approach. President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden have both tried to be tough in their approach to Beijing.
On Wednesday, US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien warned of any attempt to retake Taiwan by force, saying amphibious landings were notoriously difficult and there was much uncertainty about how the US would react.
The United States has a legal obligation to provide Taiwan with the means of self-defense, but has not made it clear whether it would intervene militarily in the event of a Chinese attack, which would likely lead to a much wider conflict with Beijing.
O'Brien said Taiwan needs to invest in capabilities, including more coastal defense cruise missiles, naval mines, rapid attack vehicles, mobile artillery and advanced surveillance equipment.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Patricia Zengerle, Mike Stone and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Franklin Paul and Matthew Lewis)
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