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Breaking News

Meeting to Discuss Detained Spy Plane Begins

Aired April 3, 2001 - 11:39 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We'll stay in Washington, but shift our focus a bit, going back to our lead story this morning, the story of the Chinese spy plane standoff.

Let's go now to the State Department and our Andrea Koppel standing by with the latest word from there.

Andrea, what have you learned?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, it's baby steps. My understanding is, according to State Department sources, that a meeting has begun between U.S. diplomats and foreign affairs officers on Hainan Island. Every province, every part of China has foreign affairs officers who work there and deal with people from overseas who have come there. This is sort of standard operating procedure that they would have such a meeting.

Now, it is unknown at this hour whether or not there are any U.S. crew members who are also participating in this meeting. State Department officials say that they had hoped and expected that there might be some crew members there, but they don't know for sure. They do say the meeting has begun and, of course, their top priority, Leon, is to meet with all 24 crew members and to find out not only how they're doing, but also to find our what, if anything, they know about the state of that U.S. spy plane and whether or not they can confirm if any equipment has been taken off that plane.

HARRIS: Well, is there any word at all what the agenda for this meeting could possibly be, besides the topic of getting access to those particular crewmen and whether or not those crewmen will be handed over at some point, perhaps after this meeting?

I think you put your finger on it. That is going to be the primary purpose of this meeting. Part of, again, the purpose of sitting down with foreign affairs officials, I can tell you, just as a journalist having worked in China, commonly, is it to have to sit down and sort of explain your intentions all over again. So I presume that's what these U.S. diplomats are doing right now: explaining why it is they want to see these crew members; explaining, again, the U.S. position; reiterating what the president has said happened, in fact -- from the U.S. perspective -- on Saturday evening, and then urging these foreign affairs officers to allow there to be meeting as soon as possible. We're quickly running out of Tuesday in China; it's coming up on midnight there. They're 12 hours ahead. And Chinese officials had told the United States that they would be able to see their crew members by Tuesday evening, certainly, before Tuesday evening ended, and we've got less than half an hour left.

HARRIS: Well, let me ask you something else about what you may be hearing about something that's somewhat related to this, as well. We heard from the Pentagon and Jamie McIntyre awhile ago about the information there being that the Chinese folks have actually boarded the plane, and they have gone through the process of beginning to remove equipment from that plane. Is there any talk there at all about how serious of an affront the United States is going to be taking that as, and their not being able to have access to these crewmen? Those two combined, how serious are these being considered?

KOPPEL: Certainly, on the latter point, the lack of access to the crew members is something the State Department is taking extremely seriously. They're very frustrated in this building, as they are over at the White House and the Pentagon, that they have not only been unable to see these 24 crew members, but haven't been able to speak with them since they first landed now 2 1/2 days ago in Haikou Island. That is taken probably more seriously, from the perspective of just getting in touch with American citizens, than the access to the plane or knowledge about the plane.

The officials that I've spoken with here, Leon, say that they are not able to confirm what Jamie McIntyre reported, over at Pentagon, from his sources, that Chinese military officers have begun to take equipment off the plane. What they have said that they can confirm is that when the crew first landed, in that last communication that they had with the crewmen -- when they landed on Haikou Island -- they said there were Chinese officers who were coming on board.

HARRIS: Very good, very interesting -- Andrea Koppel, reporting live from the State Department, thanks much.

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