NASA in talks to remount climate study

House approval still needed, Chalerm says

The US is willing to give full cooperation with Thailand on climate research next year, says Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul.

Though the climate study project for this year was scrapped by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), Thailand and the US have been in discussions over the project, Mr Surapong said during a parliamentary debate on whether to allow the US space agency to conduct the climate study from U-tapao military airport in Rayong.

There will be no new conditions for the venture if Nasa's research project is revived, the foreign minister said.

Earlier, the government invited representatives from Nasa and the US Department of State to give further information about the climate research project on Sept 26.

Mr Surapong said the US has offered to create understanding about Nasa's project among Thailand's neighbouring countries, including those where Nasa will fly over their skies.

China has also raised no objection to the project, he added.

Nasa earlier this year asked the government for permission to use the airport to conduct what it called a Southeast Asia Composition, Cloud, Climate Coupling Regional Study.

The proposal hit a snag when the government, citing national security concerns, postponed a decision on whether to approve the request until August, forcing Nasa to withdraw the request due to time constraints.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung told parliament yesterday it was necessary to put the issue to parliament for a debate after the US cancelled the climate research project on June 26.

The project would have gone ahead to the benefit of the country if false claims had not been levelled against it, said the deputy prime minister.

Several countries, including Singapore and Cambodia, had allowed Nasa to fly over their skies, he said.

"There were allegations going around that Thailand would lose its sovereignty and be spied on by the US [if the project was granted permission]. This is all untrue," Mr Chalerm said.

Opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the project was cancelled for a reason.

If it was to be revived next year, the government must come up with details of the project.

Now, there was only a one-page paper about the project, Mr Abhisit told the parliamentary debate.

It must be stated clearly in the terms of the cooperation whether details of the project will cover the use of U-tapao military airport.

"The government must be clear on this. For us here it's pointless listening about a deal which has already been cancelled," Mr Abhisit said, taking a swipe at Mr Chalerm for his comments on the project scrapped earlier this year.

Mr Abhisit said the issue was diplomatically sensitive for countries in the region and the government must take this into consideration.

The final decision on whether to let the US conduct the study must be made by the government and it must take full responsibility if something goes wrong, the opposition leader said.

Air force chief Prachin Jantong said the air force would discuss with Aeronautical Radio of Thailand about the use of U-tapao airport for climate research in preparation for Nasa's plan to conduct the climate study.

ACM Prachin said the air force would look into all aspects concerning the project, when asked to comment on national security concerns if Nasa conducts the climate research as planned in Thailand.

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Writer: Manop Thip-Osod
Position: Writer