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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    29 June 2012

Thai politics makes Nasa withdraw weather project


The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) has called off its weather-research project after a delay in the granting of permission to use Thailand's U-tapao airbase.

Nasa announced on its website on Tuesday that the Southeast Asia Composition, Cloud, Climate Coupling Regional Study (SEAC4RS) mission had to be cancelled because of the absence of necessary approvals by regional authorities in the time frame necessary to support the mission's planned deployment and scientific observation window.

Nasa's Twitter site also announced the cancellation, saying: "We have, unfortunately, had to call off this airborne science mission planned for Southeast Asia this year."

Nasa had planned to launch the project for two months in August and September but stiff opposition in the Kingdom over the issue barred the Thai government from granting a quick approval for the project.

Thailand's opposition Democrat Party accused the government of having a hidden agenda of allowing Nasa to conduct the research for military purposes to contain China in the Asia-Pacific region in exchange for a US visa for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Democrats, together with some senators, demanded that the government bring the Nasa proposal before Parliament for approval in accordance with Article 190 of the Constitution.

The Cabinet decided on Tuesday that it would put the project for debate in Parliament, which will not pass any resolution after the debate.

The decision consequently delayed the project, as Parliament will open for the next session only on August 1.

Parliament President Somsak Kiartsuranon said the planned debate on Nasa's request would also be cancelled, as the US space agency was no longer seeking use of U-tapao. It was regrettable that it had cancelled the project, he said.

Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said earlier that he would file a lawsuit against the Democrat Party for its failure to bring the project for consideration by Parliament when it was in power in 2010.

Nasa had signed a joint statement with the Thai science, technology and environment ministry's Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) in September 2010 to show their intention to conduct the research.

Opposition Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was prime minister of the previous government, said yesterday that his Cabinet had nothing to do with the project, as GISTDA is a public organisation with full authority to undertake scientific cooperation with another agency.

The joint statement signed by Nasa and GISTDA when he was in the power was not linked to the current project proposed by Nasa, he said.

The SEAC4RS was initially planned to be Nasa's most complex and ambitious airborne science campaign of the year.

The project was to be led by Brian Toon, chairman of the University of Colorado's department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

Dr Toon is a veteran of Nasa airborne campaigns, including flights to study the Antarctic ozone hole and the atmospheric effects of volcanic eruptions.

Abhisit said the opposition did not oppose the project but wanted the government to conduct it with transparency, as he had learned that Chinese media had raised concerns about military confrontation in the region.

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