Thai foreign minister notifies US of govt’s decision on NASA request

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DUBAI, June 28 – Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said on Wednesday that he telephoned US ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney to inform her of the government’s decision to refer the US space agency’s request to use U-Tapao naval airbase to conduct atmospheric studies to Parliament for a non-voting debate for transparency.

Mr Surapong, now visiting Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, said that he promptly telephoned Ms Kenney after learning the cabinet resolution on the matter and asked her to inform the United States’ National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA).

The minister said he hoped NASA would understand and decide to return to carry out its scientific research in Thailand next year.

The cabinet on Tuesday agreed to allow NASA to use the Thai naval airbase in Chon Buri and Rayong provinces, but on condition that it 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.

Although the Council of State reaffirmed that the NASA request does not require parliamentary approval under Article 190 for international agreements, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said a parliamentary response is needed in this case for transparency.

The United States asked to set up a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) centre at U-Tapao base and NASA asked permission to use the airport to conduct atmospheric studies. The US move sparked responses among the Thai public over security concerns.

Mr Surapong said that he was confident that when parliament debates the issue, all agencies concerned could be able to clarify the doubt and create better understanding to public.

He said the ministry has prepared information over the matter.

“I, myself, on behalf of a researcher who used to work with NASA in the past, understand the feeling of fellow researchers. The NASA plan will be carried out for the benefit of the world and region. Thailand will lose a good opportunity for Thai researchers to work with NASA,” he said.

He added that if a massive flood reoccurs this year, the opposition party would be responsible for politicising the issue and causing Thai researchers to miss a good opportunity.