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U.S. Personnel Detained in China to Be Released

Aired April 11, 2001 - 06:47   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LINDA STOUFFER, CNN ANCHOR: There's breaking news this morning, word that the 24 U.S. crew members who have been detained in China will be released.

JASON CARROLL, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, what we're going to do is go to Eileen O'Connor. She joins us now live from Washington, with reaction.

Eileen, what can you tell us?

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you that a White House official has confirmed reports that the 24 crew members will be released. We are not getting any more as to the exact details of the diplomatic deal that was struck with the Chinese to obtain their release. We do know from White House officials that they were not going to go as far as apologize, but they were willing to express regret and sorrow over the incident and the potential loss of life of that missing F-8 fighter pilot.

Also, what had been outlined, according to officials, was to have an explanation -- an exchange of explanation from both sides -- and then a joint maritime commission look at this incident. This is a commission that's already been developed and would also look at ways to avoid such mishaps in the future.

But right now, the latest news is that a White House official is confirming reports that the 24 crew members will be released.

STOUFFER: Eileen, throughout all these drafts of the letter that U.S. officials were to send to the Chinese, was there a change in the wording overnight, or is it the feeling that Chinese officials just decided to accept it now?

O'CONNOR: You know, that I cannot confirm yet -- that there was a change of wording, that there was any kind of pushing forward on the expressions of sorrow, or some kind of emphasis on the expressions of sorrow. But as you know, the president himself and the secretary of state over the weekend used the word "sorry" instead of "regret." So already, the White House had moved a little bit forward from simply expressing regrets to using the word "sorry." So that already had been a progression.

You know, yesterday was a day in which there were no diplomatic meetings. And sometimes, in diplomacy, it isn't what you say, it's what you don't say. And the fact that there were no meetings, that the United States wasn't saying anything else, was also a signal to the Chinese that this was the deal the Americans were offering, and it was about as far as the Americans would go.

STOUFFER: Eileen, this was perhaps the biggest international incident on President Bush's plate. His administration is still pretty new. What is the sense of how all of this went?

O'CONNOR: Well, so far, he's been getting a lot of support from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who felt that his language was tempered, that he kept it at a working diplomatic level -- using the secretary of state, using his ambassador in China, and not picking up the phone immediately to the Chinese leadership and thus escalating what the United States wanted to term an accident into an international incident.

But he was also striking a firm line, according to people who also thought his position was a good one, where, at times, he would come out and emphasize that the idea was to release the crew as quickly as possible, that that had to be done -- that he was insistent on that. But also, that, eventually, when there seemed to be a kind of a stall in this diplomatic dance, that this was potentially going to damage U.S.-China relations. He said that the day before yesterday, very emphatically, several times.

So he chose his words carefully, and he chose his moments carefully. So so far, he's been getting a lot of praise from both sides of the aisle on how he handled it in a very tempered way.

STOUFFER: Very carefully worded phrases.

Eileen O'Connor, live at the White House, thank you very much for that.

And just to recap, there are reports from Chinese state-run media that the 24 U.S. crew members will be released. There's no word at this point about exactly how the logistics will work, and also no word about the spy plane itself.

CARROLL: Right now, though, we want to get a little bit more reaction for you.

We want to turn to Dr. Yawei Liu. He is associate director of the Carter Center's China Village Elections Project and assistant professor of American history at Georgia Perimeter College.

Thank you so very much for joining us.

First, why don't you start up by giving me your reaction to all of the developments this morning?

YAWEI LIU, CARTER CENTER: I think I'm extremely happy that the resolution came by, that the two sides were able to work out a solution, and I think it bodes well for the bilateral relationship between the United States and China. And I think the whole world heaved a collective sigh of relief, for now. CARROLL: Are you surprised at all by the developments today? Did you think they would come this soon?

LIU: I wasn't that surprised, due to the fact that, by yesterday, we noticed the reporting of Secretary Powell's statement to CBS's "Face the Nation" over this weekend in which Secretary Powell very carefully used the word "sorry." He also said he was sorry that this loss of life happened and he was sorry for the violation of the Chinese airspace. So I think that was regarded by the Chinese government as a statement of apology, so to speak.

CARROLL: All right, that certainly seems to have made the difference.

Dr. Yawei Liu, thank you so very much for joining us this morning.

LIU: No problem.

CARROLL: Thanks again, doctor.

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