PM: Cabinet delays consideration of NASA request on U-Tapao airport

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BANGKOK, June 19 – Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said on Tuesday that the Cabinet has not yet considered the request of the US space agency to use U-Tapao Airport as an atmospheric studies base as the government will set up a panel to study the overall details of the project.

The premier‘s remarks  were in reference to the meeting she chaired Monday, attended by the ministers of defence and foreign affairs, and the country’s top brass, which agreed to forward the issue for today’s Cabinet consideration.

The United States earlier requested to set up a disaster response centre at the sprawling U-Tapao base, which straddles Chon Buri and Rayong provinces, and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also sought to use the airport to conduct atmospheric studies.

The US move sparked concerns among the Thai public over security concerns.

Ms Yingluck said after the Cabinet meeting that the US requests were following up a recommendation from the previous government and the overall content of the project is good but the government will set up a committee to look through the details again to ensure that it will benefit the country and not affect international relations.

The premier said once the information is clarified, the issue will be raised for Cabinet consideration or deliberation in Parliament if needed under the Constitution, Article 190, which requires parliamentary approval for international agreements.

“I believe there is no impact on international relations and the United States understands Thailand over the matter,” the prime minister commented.

Ms Yingluck said the Monday meeting agreed to form a panel to study the projects and the study period depends upon the committee, but the issue might not be ready in time for next week’s Cabinet meeting.

Air Chief Marshal Sukumpol earlier reaffirmed that the NASA plan would benefit Thailand for weather forecast information, including the origination of typhoons and monsoons and that one Thai aircraft would jointly participate in the operation with three NASA planes.

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said the idea for the Humanitarian Assistance Center was initiated by Thailand in 2010 by then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva when he attended the ASEAN-UN Summit.