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'Intensive discussions' with China to free detainees, Bush says

CNN has obtained this photo of some of the crew members  

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Chinese pilot blames U.S. plane

No response to joint investigation proposal

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday said 24 U.S. servicemen and women detained in China since Sunday after their Navy spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet were "doing just fine" and were being treated well.

"We're working hard to bring them home through intensive discussions with the Chinese government and we think we're making progress," Bush said, speaking to a group of business leaders in Virginia.

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Earlier in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said there was "movement" in negotiations for the detainees' release. (text of Powell's comments)

"There is no indication of any physical or verbal mistreatment," Powell added.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday's second meeting between U.S. diplomats and the crew in China -- unlike the first meeting -- was not attended by Chinese observers, indicating that the detainees were free to speak on any topic, including the circumstances behind the collision.

Powell said he was encouraged by the discussions aimed at resolving the standoff over the collision of a U.S. Navy spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet on Sunday.

"We are in very intensive discussion, negotiations, exchanging papers and ideas," Powell said. "I'm encouraged because there has been movement and we are exchanging precise ideas about how to bring this to a conclusion."

Powell would not offer any other details, but said he was hopefull the detainees' families would take comfort from his report.

Powell said Bush had been briefed on Friday's meeting by Gen. Neal Sealock who met with the detainees.

At a Friday news conference, Fleischer said: "The president was very heartened to hear that the spirits of the servicemen and women are high."

Powell indicated that Gen. Sealock would meet with the servicemen and women Saturday, Fleischer said.

"We're pleased about that," Fleischer said. "I think it's an indication again of how we're moving forward."

No details were announced about what occurred during the meeting or what might happen to the U.S. aircraft, which remains parked on a military airfield on the island after making an emergency landing there on Sunday.

The meeting had been scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. (4 a.m. ET) Friday but was delayed for more than five hours.

No explanation was offered for the delay.

The Americans have been held since their plane landed after colliding with a Chinese F-8 fighter. The Chinese plane crashed into the sea and its pilot is missing and presumed dead.

China has not indicated when it plans to release the crew, despite warnings from the U.S. that bilateral relations would be seriously undermined if the group is not released soon.

Beijing officials say the group violated international law and that an investigation into the crash is still going on.

Chinese pilot blames U.S. plane

The pilot of a second F-8 Chinese fighter who intercepted the Navy aircraft said Friday that the collision occurred when the U.S. plane veered into the Chinese jet. (More)

The crewmembers' version of the collision was not known because U.S. diplomats have not been able to ask them about it.

Earlier Friday, when he thought the meeting had begun, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Prueher told reporters in Beijing, China, that another meeting was scheduled for Saturday.

"We are having meetings here with the appropriate Chinese authorities," he said. "We are in fairly intense talks that are going on and we are all working it very hard and hoping to do it constructively. ..."

The fact that the meeting is taking place is a sign things are moving forward," a senior Bush administration official told CNN. The official said both countries were engaged in "intense diplomacy" and that there are "meetings on a few fronts."

The first meeting with the crew, supervised and just 40 minutes long, took place Tuesday.

No response to joint investigation proposal

China has yet to respond to a U.S. proposal that the two countries investigate the collision.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Adm. Craig Quigley told CNN that any joint U.S./Chinese investigation of the crash could involve a maritime commission, established through an agreement with the Chinese signed in 1998 by then-Defense Secretary William Cohen.

"Otherwise, we would have to establish new guidelines," Quigley said.

The agreement allows for special meetings for disputes over incidents such as this.

According to Pentagon officials, a meeting of the commission was already slated for "later in the year."

"We could just move it up," Quigley said.

Chinese fighter pilot Zhao Yu describes incident with U.S. spy plane in interview with Chinese TV on Friday (English translation) (Audio AIFF or WAV sound)  

Chinese television broadcast on Friday an interview with Zhao Yu, the pilot of the second plane involved in tracking the U.S. plane.

"The U.S. side is fully responsible for this collision. It was directly caused by the U.S. plane veering at a wide angle toward our plane, making it impossible for our plane to avoid it," Zhao told Chinese television.

"The U.S. plane severely violated flying rules, so they should hold full responsibility. It is our duty to identify any midair objects that would endanger our national security and to track them," Zhao said.

Chinese television reports on the collision continued to focus on the fate of the missing pilot, Wang Wei, broadcasting pictures of his weeping family.

Chinese television had not broadcast President Bush's expressions of regret made Thursday about the incident, though it has aired Powell's similar comments earlier in the week.

CNN White House Correspondent Major Garrett, State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel, Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon and Producer Lisa Rose Weaver contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
USCINCPAC Homepage
The Pentagon
U.S. Navy
Navy Fact File: EP-3E ORION (ARIES II) Aircraft
U.S. Department of Defense
Government of China (in Chinese)
U.S. Department of State
Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the U.S.A.
Government Information Office, Republic of China

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