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Nasa plan may face Parliament scrutiny

Jun 26. 2012
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By The Nation

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Weather project unlikely to take off because of legal concerns, govt says

A weather research project proposed by the US National Aeronautics and Space Admin-istration (Nasa) may not get a chance to take off from U-tapao this year – as Foreign Minister Surapong Towichuk-chaikul said yesterday Cabinet was likely to decide today to put the proposal to Parliament.

“To ensure it is clear, I think the government should put it through the Parliament in accordance with Article 190 of the Constitution,” Surapong told reporters.
Putting the proposal to Parliament would delay the project. Nasa had hoped to use three weather surveillance aircraft in August and September this year. But Parliament doesn’t have its next session till August 1. The government is authorised to put the proposal on the agenda for the next session but it would take time to process it.
If the government did not put the Nasa project to Parliament, the opposition or Senate might ask the Constitution or Administrative Court to rule whether allowing it to go ahead was unconstitutional, Surapong said. If the proposal was involved in a legal dispute, it would be delayed, he said.
The Council of State and the Foreign Ministry’s Treaties and Legal Affairs departments suggested earlier that the Nasa project did not need approval from the Parliament since it involved no change in territory or sovereignty over territory.
The Nasa research project became a hot political issue after the opposition Democrat Party accused the government of offering U-tapao to the US in exchange for a visa for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. It demanded the government debate the issue in Parliament for transparency.
Many lawmakers said the project might have some implication on national security as the US might have a hidden agenda or military desire to contain China in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Nasa project was mixed up with a Pentagon idea to use U-tapao as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training and readiness centre. The idea is still far from fleshed out as Thai and US officials only agreed in Washington recently to set up a working group to jointly develop the plan to explore possibilities to set up such a centre.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday the Obama administration revamped its Asian strategy in response to a rising China and that the military was weighing a return to some familiar bases from its last conflict in Southeast Asia, the Vietnam War.
The lack of information has bred suspicion in the Thai media and among opposition lawmakers, who have held up a separate project that would allow Nasa to operate climate-change surveillance flights from U-tapao this fall, it said.
Surapong yesterday discussed the Nasa project with US Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney to inform her about the government’s decision and the Thai constitutional process.
Ambassador Kenney insisted that the climate project was purely scientific and that Nasa is a civilian agency with no connection to the military. The result of the research would be released to the public and all people could access it, she said. However, the US respected the Thai government’s decision and the cooperation between the two countries in many fields would continue, she said.
Surapong said he was not sure if the project could begin next year as time for this year was running out. 
Indeed, the project was raised back in September 2010 during the Democrat government under Abhisit Vejjajiva, when Nasa signed a joint statement of intent with the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Gistda).
Surapong said he received a proposal for these research flights on May 25 and waited for opinions from all concerned agencies before putting it to Cabinet for consideration this month.

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