Chingrai Times – Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said on Thursday that the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will withdraw its plan to use Thailand’s U-Tapao airport to conduct atmospheric studies if there is no conclusion by the Thai government by June 26.
The Thai foreign minister made the statement following a request from the United States to set up a disaster response centre at the sprawling U-Tapao base, which straddles Chon Buri and Rayong provinces, and NASA to use the airport to conduct atmospheric studies.
The US move sparked concerns among the Thai public over security concerns and the Yingluck cabinet decided to postpone consideration of the request until further studies on the impact of the request have been completed.
Mr Surapong said he had received a letter from the US embassy in Bangkok stating that NASA will suspend its plan to use the airport if the Thai government does not answer by June 26 as the agency could not move its equipment on time for the project implementation scheduled in August and September.
The letter stated the US understands the situation which is a domestic problem, according to the minister.
Mr Surapong warned that Thailand would lose benefits and knowledge if NASA does withdraw its project, and such a move would also affect the country’s image in the world community.
Both Singapore and Cambodia gave a green light for NASA to overfly their airspace. What Thailand will get from the project is scientific knowledge and information of a quality and nature that the country has never had.
Regarding concerns over national security, the foreign minister reaffirmed that 18 security concerned agencies acknowledged the issue and the government also gives importance on the cooperation with other countries, as well as focuses on the public interest.
Mr Surapong asserted the NASA request will be raised in the Cabinet next Tuesday so that the issue will be concluded, whether the project will be allowed or not.
But he also revealed that that the issue could not be considered at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting although a special meeting of concerned agencies, the premier and military brass agreed to forward it for cabinet consideration as it awaited official endorsement from the National Security Council.
The foreign minister said that Thailand’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency signed the plan with NASA on Sept 28, 2010, during the government of then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The current government asked the US government on Feb 15, 2012 to ask Thailand’s neighbours whether they would open their skies for NASA aircraft.
Mr Surapong said the foreign ministry also submitted a letter to the Chinese government informing it of the plan and there was no objection from Beijing.
On April 17, the US embassy reaffirmed that the NASA project is about science, while Singapore and Cambodia agreed to open their airspace to NASA aircraft. Then, the foreign ministry decided to submit the request for Cabinet consideration.