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Diplomats Meet With Spy Plane Crew
HAIKOU, China (AP) - After a weekend of hardline rhetoric
and growing U.S. impatience, two American diplomats met Monday with
all 24 crew members of a downed U.S. spy plane.
Army Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock, the U.S. military attache to Beijing,
said the crew members were in ``excellent health and their spirits
are extremely high.''
``They are well taken care of,'' said Sealock, who met for 40 minutes
with the Americans along with a consular official. He described their
living conditions on Hainan island in the South China Sea as like
a ``hotel environment.''
It was the fourth meeting with the crew members since they were detained
after making an emergency landing on Hainan following an April 1 collision
with a Chinese fighter jet.
The meeting came amid growing U.S. impatience for the release of the
crew. In Washington, President Bush cautioned that any delay could
be detrimental to U.S.-China ties.
``Every day that goes by increases the potential that our relations
with China will be damaged,'' Bush told reporters during a Cabinet
China insisted anew Monday that Washington apologize and take responsibility
for the collision. It gave no direct reaction to a weekend statement
by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that Washington was ``sorry''
for the fate of the Chinese fighter pilot, who is missing.
``In consultations, the Chinese side has emphasized that the entire
responsibility for this incident rests with the U.S. side,'' the state-run
Xinhua News Agency said, citing China's Foreign Ministry.
``The U.S. side must apologize to China and adopt measures to ensure
this sort of event will not reoccur.''
In Haikou, the head of Hainan's foreign affairs office reiterated
China's frustration with surveillance by U.S. spy planes. He said
they had ``seriously disturbed'' local lives and tourism.
``Hainan people demand the U.S. side stop such spying activities and
apologize to the Chinese people for this incident,'' Chen Ci said
at a joint press conference with Sealock. ``We welcome American tourists
to Hainan for holiday-making but not the spy planes.''
Returning from a meeting at the Foreign Ministry on Monday, U.S. Ambassador
Joseph Prueher said talks were ``making progress,'' but did not elaborate.
``We hope we are moving a little closer toward a solution,'' Prueher
U.S. diplomats visiting Hainan have sought daily access to the detained
American officials were allowed to see eight crew members during their
last meeting Saturday. They gave them printouts of e-mails from their
families, said Salome Hernandez, another diplomat.
Meanwhile, Xinhua cited officials describing ``perilous'' rescue conditions
in the region where a search is under way for the missing Chinese
pilot. It added to reports that appear to be intended to prepare the
public for a declaration of his death.
High winds and waves, sharks and water temperatures of less than 86
degrees mean the longest anyone can survive is about three days, Liu
Shi, head of the State Maritime Search and Rescue Center, was cited
Nevertheless, Liu said that if Wang used all of his emergency supplies,
there was a chance he could have survived.
``Wang Wei could still be alive. We sincerely are hoping for a miracle,''
Analysts have said China's military is unlikely to agree to release
the Americans until the fate of its pilot is known. Chinese authorities
have confirmed they questioned the U.S. crew. They accuse the U.S.
pilot of breaking the law by making an emergency landing at a Chinese
air base without applying in advance for permission.
The White House has declined to apologize for the incident, saying
it believes the collision was an accident. China's Defense Minister
Gen. Chi Haotian said over the weekend that the army wouldn't let
Washington ``shirk responsibility.''
Chinese civilian leaders could be reluctant to compromise for fear
of alienating the influential military or looking weak before major
leadership changes to be decided next year at a Communist Party congress.
U.S. officials have warned that further delay could cause strains
that spill over into other issues, such as trade ties and U.S. weapons
sales to Taiwan.
In his first public comments on the dispute, Taiwan President Chen
Shui-bian said Monday that he hoped Washington and Beijing would quickly
resolve the impasse and that it would not cause the United States
to cut back on arms sales to Taipei.
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