U.S. says China must move to break spy plane impasse
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration said Tuesday that talks with the Chinese have gone as far as they can, and China must move to end the standoff over a grounded U.S. spy plane.
In comments Tuesday afternoon, President Bush indicated no immediate end to the dispute was in sight.
"Diplomacy sometimes take a little longer than people would like," Bush told reporters at the White House. "I urge the Chinese to bring resolution to this issue. It's time for our people to come home."
Chinese officials announced Wednesday news conferences in Beijing and Hainan. There were no details about what would be discussed at the 7 a.m. EDT conferences.
Meanwhile, a State Department official told CNN on Tuesday: "We've done as much as we can ... It's time for them to decide." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called that assessment a "fair statement."
There were no high-level meetings Tuesday between the U.S. and Chinese governments on the fate of the 24 fliers from a Navy surveillance plane being held on the Chinese island of Hainan. The plane made an emergency landing there April 1 after a collision with a Chinese fighter plane over the South China Sea.
Behind the scenes, U.S. officials worked on a letter they hoped would resolve the dispute -- one that would involve an exchange of explanations about what happened and allow for a joint investigation into the incident.
U.S. officials were confident last week that they had a framework for ending the stalemate and expected details to be worked out over the weekend. But U.S. sources said the Chinese have rejected initial drafts of the letter.
The United States maintained that an apology for the collision, which the Chinese demand, was not forthcoming. China criticized that refusal Tuesday.
"The United States must take a more cooperative and pragmatic attitude. It must take responsibility, and it must apologize," Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said.
Administration declines Jackson offer
The momentum in the negotiations has slowed since last week, when officials spoke of "round the clock" diplomacy and meetings between U.S. and Chinese diplomats took place continuously.
But U.S. officials said talks between Washington and Beijing have not broken down. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Joseph Prueher, the U.S. ambassador to China, was standing by to meet with officials in Beijing.
"Whenever they're ready, we'll have further discussions," Boucher said.
While officials from President Bush on down speak of potential damage to U.S.-China relations, some aspects to the bilateral relationship already have become strained. On Monday, the Chinese Embassy in Washington hosted a reception, which Secretary of State Colin Powell instructed U.S. officials to boycott.
"The secretary made quite clear that he considered it inappropriate for U.S. officials to be attending that reception," Boucher said. But if "there were social contacts that we might be able to use to advance the prospect of return of our air crew ... we would probably do that."
The administration politely declined an offer by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson to go to China to seek the fliers' release.
"We must somehow bring our soldiers back home and not allow them to be trophies in a growing, deepening crisis between the U.S. and China," Jackson told CNN.
But the administration said it would continue to focus on conventional diplomacy to resolve the situation. Boucher said Powell "told him about the intensive diplomacy that's going on and said we would continue to use that channel."
Annan urges quick end to standoff
Boucher said previously scheduled meetings with Chinese officials on a variety of bilateral issues have in large part been used to "send the message" to China that it is time to end the dispute.
The head of the U.S. delegation on Hainan, Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock, reported the crew members were in good condition, well-fed and were able to exercise at the compound where they are being held. Sealock, the U.S. military attaché in Beijing, and other U.S. officials met with the crew for a fifth time Tuesday.
But a senior State Department official said the United States has not had unfettered access to the crew, and is working under the assumption that Chinese officials were eavesdropping on their meetings with the crew members through listening devices.
And U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the United States and China to resolve the impasse before it hurts U.S.-Chinese ties. Annan told CNN he personally expressed his concerns Tuesday to Wang Yingfan, China's ambassador to the United Nations.
"We have two important countries engaged in this issue, and if this drags on ... it could have an impact on their relations and relations in the region," he said.
Annan and Wang met on an unrelated matter, but the secretary-general said he asked the ambassador to convey his "worry" to President Jiang Zemin that the standoff is not in the interests of the world.
Annan has said his "good offices" are available if the parties wished. At the moment, however, there is no sign that the United Nations will play a role in ending the standoff.
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