Thai official informs US envoy over NASA issue
BANGKOK — Thailand Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul has called US Ambassador Kristie Kenney to inform her personally about the Cabinet's resolution to forward NASA's request to use U-tapao Airport for a weather-research project to Parliament for consideration.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said yesterday that the US envoy assured Surapong that Washington understood and respected the Thai government's decision.
Kenney also tweeted that the White House remained "committed to Thai-US cooperation in science, health, environment that benefits all people".
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration's request to use the naval airbase for two months in August and September became a hot issue in Thailand because of the country's political conflict.
The opposition Democrat Party, which initiated cooperation with NASA in 2010 when it was in power, accused the government of harbouring an ulterior motive, as granting permission to use the airbase for military purposes could be traded off for the US granting an entry visa to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The opposition tagged along with some senators in demanding the government to subject the proposal to parliamentary approval in line with Article 190 of the Constitution.
The Cabinet on Tuesday agreed to pass the issue to Parliament in accordance with Article 179, which does not require a vote after a debate.
Parliament, which is in recess, is scheduled to reconvene on August 1, which would be too late for NASA to implement the project.
NASA will make the decision on how to proceed and whether it would return to conduct research in Thailand in the future, Thani said.
Senator Somchai Sawaengkan said the government should call for a special session of Parliament to take up this specific issue since six weeks remained until the research project was supposed to get off the ground.
Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwannathat suggested that the opposition had jeopardised the valuable project by raising a lot of nonsense suspicions and mixing it up with military spying and Chinese sensitivities.
"So who will take responsibility as our country has now lost benefits from this scientific project?" he asked.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was prime minister in the previous government, said the opposition would not accept any finger-pointing from the government over the project's delay.
The opposition has no authority to dictate the government's actions, he said. If the government had handled the matter with transparency, the project could be continued without any problem, he said.
The government had plenty of time since last year and could still have facilitated the project quickly through a special parliamentary session but chose the other way to shift the blame on the opposition, he said.