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Bush Honors Crew of Once-Detained Spy Plane at White House, Condemns Suicide Bombing in Israel

Aired May 18, 2001 - 08:51   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.
COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: President George Bush has just made a statement about the latest bombing in the Middle East, this one a suicide bombing in Israel, just north of Tel Aviv and just a few miles from the West Bank. Six people were killed, and many others were injured.

Let's go to CNN's John King, who is at the White House, tracking this for us now -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Colleen, we will have the tape in just a minute, of the president's remarks in the Oval Office. He did tell reporters that he condemned the suicide bombing today and that violence will never lead to peace in the Middle East. The president once again urged all parties to show restraint.

The president was in the Oval Office, meeting with crew of that U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane. He thanked them for their heroism during the 11-day standoff with China.

He also commented on the fact that that U.S. plane is still on Hainan Island. The president voiced some confidence that negotiations that negotiations to win its return would indeed bring a breakthrough in the days ahead.

Those crew members are here to receive some awards from the Defense Department later today.

Again, the president condemned the violence in the Middle East today.

Let's listen in on what he had to say in the Oval Office.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): The president is greeting the 24 crew members here. He's greeting them here after a breakfast at the White House. After this, today, Vice President Dick Cheney will greet them as well, the 24 members of that U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane. The crew, of course, spent 11 days in China after that midair collision with a Chinese fighter jet.

After this ceremony here at the White House, this breakfast and meeting with the president, the crew will travel out to Andrews Air Force Base, where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld later today will present them with medals. The pilot of the plane, Lt. Shane Osborn, is being singled out; he will get a distinguished service award from the Pentagon.

The president wanted to bring them here. You will recall he did not go out to Washington state, when most of the crew returned to its base out there. The president said then that he thought that it would be best if he stayed out of the public limelight and let the crew enjoy their special moment. But he did want to bring them into the White House so that he could personally thank them for what he calls heroism during that 11-day standoff with China.

That's Nicholas Mellos there, the senior enlisted crewman on the plane. He too will be getting a special award in addition to the award all the crew members are receiving later today at Andrews Air Force Base.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, sir. I'm sure glad you're here.

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: You bet.

Welcome. Good to see you. Thanks for coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

BUSH: I appreciate you.

Yes, sir. Welcome. I'm glad you're here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir.

BUSH: Thanks.

Here's a good man. Good to see you again. Thank you. Welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Bush.

KING: The president, we are told, speaks at the end of this, first about the Middle East, and is also asked a question about that EP-3 surveillance plane, which, of course, is still at that Chinese military base.

Here you see the president.

BUSH: I am thrilled to be able to look you in the eye and say thanks for your service to the country.

I remember on my phone call saying, "Gosh, I hope I can welcome you to the Oval Office," and here you are. You handled yourselves with such class and dignity, it was important for our nation to realize the fine caliber of people that serve our country, and we're really proud of you. We appreciate your mission, but most of all we appreciate your character. And so it's my honor to welcome you here. I look forward to giving you a tour around this majestic office; a shrine to the greatness of America.

I want to say one other thing before we visit informally. Today, the violence in the Middle East took on a new level of intensity. Our country is deeply concerned, first and foremost for those who lost their life and for the families affected.

It is essential that the leaders in the Middle East speak out clearly against violence. We must break the cycle of violence in order to begin meaningful discussions about any kind of political settlement.

My administration will continue to work with the parties involved, reminding folks that violence will not lead to peace, obviously. Violence will make it so difficult for there to be any political settlement.

I'm concerned any time anybody loses life. I'm especially concerned about suicide bombers that have disregard for themselves and obviously for innocent folks.

We will continue to work hard to bring to peace to that important part of the region.

Thank you all for coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all.

The lights, please.

Thank you.

QUESTION: What's the latest on the spy plane?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all. That's a lot. Outside, please. Thank you.

BUSH: We're working to get the plane home. We're making progress about getting the plane home.

But today, we get to celebrate the fact that the crew is home, and that's the most important thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, now he's done. Lights, please.

BUSH: All of you tax families get out of here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You heard the president there, voicing his concern of what he called the new level of intensity in the violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is a reaction, a condemnation, from the president, of today's suicide bombing in Israel. The president says that until the violence stops, there is no way to have a meaningful political dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He once again asked leaders in both the Palestinian and the Israeli camps to do more to bring calm to the region, saying that the United States stands ready to help diplomatically, but first the violence must calm down.

The president also, at the very end there, as he met with the crew of that EP-3 surveillance plane, said some progress is being made in the negotiations to win the return of that plane. The big dispute has been that the Chinese do not want the United States to repair and then to fly the plane out. They want it to be dismantled and put upon a giant transport plane and taken out. Those negotiations continue, with both the president, and a few days ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell, suggesting that a breakthrough might be at hand -- Colleen.

EDWARDS: CNN's John King, at the White House, thanks so much for bringing that to us.

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