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U.S. Diplomats Meet With Spy Plane's Crew

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesdayhe wanted a speedy resolution of the U.S.-Chinese standoff over anAmerican spy plane after U.S. officials were allowed to meet withthe crew. ``I hope that is the beginning of an end to thisincident,'' he said.

However, a U.S. official who participated in the meeting gave noindication that the 24 crew members would be released immediately.

Army Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock, the U.S. Embassy defense attachein Beijing who met with the crew members, said they were in goodhealth. He said U.S. officials were working for their release, butgave no indication when that would happen.

Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, saidit appeared the Chinese government would insist on an official U.S.government apology before allowing the crew to leave China.

A Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, expressedsurprise that the crew was not freed immediately.

``We're not at all clear on why there is a delay here,'' Quigleysaid.

The U.S. meeting with the crew came three days after the U.S.surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet, sending thesmaller fighter into the sea. China blamed the United States; U.S.officials insisted the American plane was in international airspaceon a routine mission.

The incident heightened tensions between the two countries.Chinese officials said the United States should halt flights soclose to China. U.S. officials said China was not followingestablished diplomatic practices by delaying U.S. contact with theplane's 24 crew members.

``I hope that this meeting will lead to the rapid release of allof the members of the crew back to the United States so they can bereturned to their families,'' Powell told reporters.

``Let's get back to other matters and put this behind us,''Powell said at a news conference in Key West, Fla. He said he hopedthe Chinese would also permit the ``rapid return of our aircraft.''

``I'm encouraged by the fact that the meeting is taking place.It shouldn't have taken this long to happen. But, now that it hashappened, I hope this starts us on a road to a full and completeresolution of this matter.''

``Hopefully, it will not affect the overall relationship''between the United States and China, Powell said.

He also said the incident would have no bearing on PresidentBush's decision, expected later this month, on the composition ofan annual arms package for Taiwan.

Bush, who said Monday that China was not responding quicklyenough to U.S. requests, declined comment on the situation during atrip to Wilmington, Del. But White House officials indicated hemight have more to say after the diplomats' meeting with the planecrew.

The U.S. ambassador to Beijing said earlier Tuesday that theUnited States wants a diplomatic solution to the standoff but wouldoffer no apology.

``I've been a Navy pilot for 35 years, and I think theassertions they (Chinese officials) described for the collision areextremely unlikely, including where the fault lies,'' AmbassadorJoseph Prueher said from Beijing in an interview with CBS' ``TheEarly Show.''

``We really want to work this out through diplomatic channels,''Prueher, a retired admiral, said. Asked whether he would have aproblem apologizing for the incident, which has ratcheted uptensions between the two nations, Prueher replied:

``As a matter of fact, I do have a problem with it and I thinkour government would have a problem with it as well.'' Hecriticized ``these assertions ... from the Foreign Ministry and themessage I have been getting for the last two nights as we have beentalking to the Chinese'' - that the United States is to blame.

U.S. military officials say the Chinese undoubtedly boarded thedamaged plane and examined its sophisticated spying equipment.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition ofanonymity, said the spy plane's crew said in a message as itprepared for its emergency landing on Hainan Island on Sunday thatit had begun destroying sensitive intelligence-collection equipmentand information, in accordance with standard procedures.

``The responsibility fully lies with the American side,''Chinese President Jiang Zemin was quoted by Foreign Ministryspokesman Zhu Bangzao. ``We have full evidence for that.''

The United States is demanding that China return the crew andtheir EP-3E Aries II surveillance plane, which made an emergencylanding on Hainan after the collision with a Chinese fighter jet.

Prueher, interviewed on ABC's ``Good Morning America,'' said,``We have every reason to think the Chinese have been all over theairplane,'' which is crammed with sophisticated surveillanceequipment.

Bush gave no indication how the United States might react ifChina delays or refuses outright.

``Failure of the Chinese government to react promptly to ourrequest is inconsistent with standard diplomatic practice, and withthe expressed desire of both our countries for better relations,''Bush said Monday.

The Navy late Monday released the names of the crew; theyincluded 22 members of the Navy, one Air Force senior airman and aMarine Corps sergeant.

The EP-3E Aries II is from Fleet Air Reconnaissance SquadronOne, whose home base is Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Wash. Ithas a permanent detachment at Misawa Air Base in Japan.

The plane landed on the Chinese island of Hainan after itcollided with a Chinese fighter jet that was shadowing it. U.S.officials said the Chinese fighter rammed the spy plane's leftwing, damaging an engine. China insisted the U.S. plane created thecollision.

The Chinese fighter that collided with the American planecrashed into the sea and the pilot was missing. A second fightertailing the American plane returned safely.

``The Chinese must promptly allow us to have contact with the 24airmen and women that are there and return our plane to us withoutany further tampering,'' Bush said Monday.

Anti-American sentiment in China still remains high two yearsafter the mistaken bombing by an American warplane of the ChineseEmbassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

White House officials said Bush decided not to telephone ChinesePresident Jiang, not wanting to suggest the White House wastreating the situation as a crisis

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