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'No blame, no plane,' China tells U.S.

U.S. delegation
The U.S. delegation leaves Beijing without a Chinese commitment to return the crippled spy plane  

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Plane's future uncertain

Resuming surveillance flights

11-day standoff

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BEIJING, China -- A U.S. delegation left China on Friday after two days of talks but with no sign of a breakthrough on tensions caused by the collision of a U.S. Navy spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet.

Peter Verga, the chief negotiator for the U.S. side, said his delegation was heading back to Washington to deliver a full report to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"The meetings were very professionally handled and we're looking forward to getting our plane back," he said before leaving his hotel for the airport.

No further talks are expected for later this week, but both sides have agreed to keep discussions open through diplomatic channels.

"We covered all the items on the agenda, and I found today's session to be very productive," Verga, the undersecretary of defense for policy support said.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer described the meeting as "business-like" and said both sides had dealt with their respective agendas.

Plane's future uncertain

Earlier the United States had come away from the first day of talks dissatisfied, saying the Chinese had refused to discuss returning the damaged U.S. plane, which is still on the southern island of Hainan.

However, a visit by U.S. Ambassador Joseph Prueher to the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday morning saved the talks, by obtaining a promise that a plan for the return of the plane would be discussed.

But during a Foreign Ministry briefing later, spokesperson Zhang Qiyue said it was impossible to discuss a detail like that, when the two sides could not agree on who was to blame for the collision.

On Thursday the ministry released an animated video of its version of events surrounding the April 1 collision, as well as a videotape of U.S. fighters which it said were flying in an aggressive manner.

The animation shows the U.S. EP-3 turning abruptly, colliding with a Chinese F-8 fighter. The pilot of that fighter, Wang Wei, is missing and presumed dead.

U.S. officials in Washington said the evidence, and even the Chinese animation, back the American version that it was the Chinese fighter pilot who was responsible for the accident.

Pentagon officials have also dismissed the significance of China's videotapes, saying they showed only safe, routine intercepts.

In Washington a Bush administration official said the Chinese had agreed that the issue of "rules of the road" -- how the two countries treated each other in international air space -- would be examined by a bilateral joint maritime commission.

No date for that discussion has been set.

Resuming surveillance flights

Meanwhile, Pentagon sources say officials are considering when and how to resume surveillance flights off China's coast.

Pentagon sources say a big sticking point is whether surveillance aircraft should have some kind of escort when the flights resume.

The Chinese have pressed the United States to end surveillance flights.

For its part the United States has called on China to end what it calls aggressive flying tactics by Chinese pilots shadowing its surveillance aircraft.

The U.S. military leadership, Pentagon sources said, does not like the idea of escorts for surveillance flights, believing it would set a bad precedent and could actually diminish safety.

Other administration officials believe it might be necessary for the United States to show it is willing to protect its flights, particularly if China takes a hard line.

One compromise might be have U.S. F-15s from the air base in Okinawa, Japan flying at the same time as the surveillance flights, but some distance away to keep an eye on things.

Publicly, administration officials only say that they have a right to conduct those surveillance flights in international air space.

11-day standoff

It was during one of those flights that the mid-air collision occurred, triggering an 11-day standoff between the U.S. and China.

The collision -- over international waters in the South China Sea - destroyed the Chinese jet and forced the crippled U.S. aircraft to make an emergency landing at the nearest landing strip -- China's Langshui military base on the Chinese island of Hainan.

China held the 24 U.S. crew members for 11 days while diplomats forged an agreement for their release.

The deal included an American apology for the loss of the Chinese pilot and for landing the damaged plane without "verbal permission" from Chinese officials.

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Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United States of America
U.S. Navy factfile: The EP-3
U.S. Dept of Defense
White House
Government Information Office, Republic of China

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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