Andrea Koppel: Administration works to bring home crew
Andrea Koppel is a CNN State Department correspondent. She has been covering the developments as US officials attempt to gain the release of the 24 crew members of the EP-3 electronic reconnaissance plane which landed on the island of Hainan after colliding with a Chinese F-8 military jet.
Q: How long is President Bush willing to be patient with the Chinese government as we negotiate for the release of the 24 American crewmembers?
Koppel: Senior State Department officials say that President Bush is growing impatience over Chinas continued detention of 24 American crew members should have been reflected in his remarks at the White House. In particular, officials point to the Presidents implication that the longer the standoff continues, the great the chance it will adversely the US-China relationship. President Bush said, This accident has the potential for undermining our hopes for a fruitful and productive relationship between our two countries. To keep that from happening, our service men and women need to come home. The president is getting impatient.
Q: Is the administration trying to balance firmness with restraint in this matter?
Koppel: The Bush administration is trying to be firm while taking great pains not to antagonize Chinas leaders. One official said there is a very clear effort to keep the presidents rhetoric from becoming part of the problem. We are still not a point where I either side would describe this incident has having long-term implications, however.
Other officials point to the fact that Chinas allowing two US diplomats to gain access to the 24 Americans is a step in the right direction. Through comments made by President Bush and Secretary of State Powell, as well as private meetings between senior US and Chinese officials, the Bush administration is trying to resolve this incident diplomatically.
Q: What diplomatic overtures have been made so far?
Koppel: On Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage called in Chinas ambassador to Washington for the second time this week to reinforce the presidents message, in the words of another State Department official. This is intensive diplomacy, he said.
Secretary of State Powell, for one, would not speculate on what the administration might do in the future if the diplomatic route does not work. Officials say the administration is purposely trying not to point fingers of blame, and is trying not to get into a public debate with China because, in the words of one official, that is not productive.
Q: How concerned are officials that the Chinese will dismantle the plane?
Koppel: Certainly that is a concern, but over and over again I am hearing from officials here at the State Department that the primary goal -- what they are all working toward -- is the safe release of the 24 Americans. While administration officials dont want the Chinese to keep the plane and certainly dont want the Chinese to be taking anything off the plane, they are focusing their energy on the release of the Americans because they believe that is more important.
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