Administration says quick end to standoff needed |

Administration says quick end to standoff needed


WASHINGTON – As the standoff over 24 detained Americans dragged into its second week, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday a quick resolution was critical to limit damage to U.S.-China relations.

”I don’t want to put a timetable on it, every day that goes by without having it resolved raises the risks to the long-term relationship,” Cheney said on NBC’s ”Meet the Press.”

Added Powell: ”The relationship is being damaged. The damage can be undone, but in order for the damage to be undone and no further damage to occur, we’ve got to bring this matter to a close as soon as possible.”

Cheney said he expects the crew members of the U.S. spy plane to come home soon, while Powell spoke of ”intense diplomatic discussions” to free them.

”We have access to them, because they are being treated very well, because we expect they will be released shortly,” Cheney said on ABC’s ”This Week.”

Powell also reaffirmed that Bush administration was not wavering from its refusal to apologize for the collision of a Chinese fighter jet and the Navy spy plane, as Beijing has demanded.

”We have expressed regrets, we’ve expressed our sorrow, and we are sorry that a life was lost,” Powell said. ”The question of apology is something quite different, because then we are being asked to accept responsibility. And that we have not done, can’t do, and therefore won’t apologize for that.”

Cheney and Powell made the rounds on Sunday talk shows to provide updates on the downed U.S. spy plane and the missing Chinese fighter jet and its pilot. The crew was forced down on an island in southern China.

Powell said the negotiations between the two countries ”are moving along.”

”We laid out a road map several days ago with the Chinese government as to how we could get through this incident and get to a more stable situation once again,” Powell said on ”Fox News Sunday.” ”We’re not moving as fast along as I’d like, but we are moving and there has been some progress.”

He said the two sides are looking for ”the right words” so ”we can get through this without damaging the relationship any more than it already has been damaged.”

Cheney rejected a description by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, that the crew members were hostages.

U.S. diplomats who met with the crew for a third time on Sunday, local time, said they remained in good spirits and hopeful they would be released soon.

As the standoff entered its second week, China’s top military newspaper, the Liberation Army Daily, said Sunday that Beijing is entitled to ”thoroughly investigate” the captive crew and their downed aircraft. The paper also demanded that the United States end surveillance flights near the coast.

The strongly worded article was another sign China’s politically powerful military is pressing for a hard line with Washington.

President Bush, spending the weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat, remained in close contact with the negotiations and conveyed his greetings to the crew through U.S. diplomats, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

U.S. officials hoped a letter under review by Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin could lead to a resolution of the dispute.

The letter would express regrets for the collision on April 1 between the plane and a Chinese jet fighter and arrange for the two sides to exchange their views of the incident. It also would clear the way for release of members of the Navy EP-3E Aries II reconnaissance plane.

In a letter to Powell, China’s Vice Premier Qian Qichen said U.S. statements of regret about the incident ”so far are still unacceptable” and an apology is required. But two American officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the stern rhetoric doesn’t reflect the tone Chinese negotiators have taken in private discussions.

AP-WS-04-08-01 1116EDT

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