PM: Cabinet forwards NASA request on U-Tapao to Parliament

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BANGKOK, June 26 – Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said on Tuesday her Cabinet resolved to forward the request of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to use U-Tapao airport to conduct atmospheric studies to Parliament for a non-voting debate for transparency.

The premier told a news conference after the Cabinet agreed to allow NASA to use the Thai naval airbase in Chon Buri and Rayong provinces, but under condition that the case must be debated in Parliament under Article 179.

Article 179 states the Cabinet can seek opinions on important issues from members of the lower house and senators without actually voting on the issues.

Ms Yingluck said that although the Council of State reaffirmed that the NASA request does not require parliamentary approval under Article 190 for international agreements, the issue has been heavily criticised and objected to by the Opposition.

The prime minister stated the parliamentary response is needed in this case for transparency.

Ms Yingluck however noted that the parliamentary mechanism will delay NASA’s plan and may result in cancellation of the agency project this year as the studies must be conducted during the monsoon season.

She admitted that Thailand will lose its opportunity on technology development if NASA withdraws its plan.

The premier said she has assigned the foreign minister to clarify the matter with the United States and believes that the US will understand and respect Thailand’s decision.

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said the Cabinet decided to forward the NASA request for parliamentary debate as it is concerned that the issue could affect the Cabinet status following other interpretations of the law.

Mr Surapong said the issue will be put on parliament’s agenda when the session opens in August, while his ministry has been assigned to explain the decision to the US embassy in Bangkok to reaffirm Thailand’s future technical and scientific cooperation.

The foreign minister said the Cabinet is also concerned about the public and neighbouring countries’ misunderstanding on the NASA case. He asserted that Thai-Sino relations have also considerably strengthened in this administration.

Dr Anond Snidvongs, executive director of Thailand’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA), on Tuesday said the NASA project will fill Thailand’s missing scientific information and that the kingdom has cooperated with the US and NASA for several decades.

He also assured the public that the project has nothing to do with military activities and spying missions.

Earlier today, the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) reported that the US space agency was preparing to transfer its scientific equipment to Thailand but the arrival date was not yet confirmed.

RTN Chief of Staff Admiral Damrongsak Haocharoen said Thailand will set up a panel to jointly conduct the equipment inspection with the Ministry of Science once the cabinet gave green light for the project.