Still more back and

Still more back and forth on the long, long, long anticipated appointment of Douglas H. Paal to serve as America’s chief envoy to Taiwan, the island nation at the center of one of the most volatile crisis points in the world.

The publication of this article in The New Republic three weeks ago at first threatened to torpedo Paal’s chances for the Taiwan appointment. But State Department and White House officials quickly regrouped and dug in their heels, insisting that Paal’s appointment go through. Hot-spots of opposition to Paal’s appointment — like the Office of the Vice President — either got on board or were muzzled.

Since then, behind the scenes, there’s been a flurry of letters written back and forth and last-ditch politicking.

Here’s a bit of it.

Days after the TNR article appeared, James Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, attacked the article and The New Republic at a speaking engagement in Washington, calling it among other things an example of “hack journalism.”

Yesterday, Washington Asia-hand Steven Clemons, Executive Vice President of the New America Foundation, wrote Kelly a letter criticizing his cavalier dismissal of the ethical and legal questions raised in the article. The letter contains a description of Kelly’s remarks.

(According to this State Department website, Kelly is scheduled to address the foreign media today — March 14th — at 2:15 PM at the Washington foreign press center. He’ll likely be asked about the Doug Paal appointment.)

Here’s the earlier letter Senator Jesse Helms sent to Kelly’s boss, Colin Powell, asking for an explanation of, or response to, the questions raised in The New Republic article.

Because of the Helms’ letter, and other developments, State Department officials have now agreed to hold a private briefing for Senate opponents of the Paal appointment to discuss the questions surrounding it.

That meeting is expected to take place in the next several days. But Paal’s opponents in the Senate believe the administration’s mind is made up and it’s a done deal.