China talks at a standoff, U.S. may call a halt |

China talks at a standoff, U.S. may call a halt


WASHINGTON (AP) – After a rocky first round, the United States is threatening to break off talks with China on U.S. surveillance flights unless the Chinese start discussing the return of the Navy reconnaissance plane detained for nearly three weeks.

The United States hopes to gain from the talks in Beijing at least the return of the aircraft that made an emergency landing in southern China April 1. The crew was held for 11 days and released only after protracted negotiations.

”Nothing was settled. … There was no progress on the issue of return of the airplane,” department spokesman Richard Boucher said after the opening 2-hour session.

The U.S. ambassador, retired Adm. Joseph Prueher, will meet with Foreign Ministry officials and ”he will tell them it makes sense to continue to meet only if there’s productive discussion about return of the aircraft,” Mary Ellen Countryman, a White House spokeswoman, said.

”We look to the Chinese to take a positive and constructive attitude at these meetings,” Boucher said.

”When we and the Chinese can talk from the basis of fact rather than from a basis of rhetoric, we’re going to be better off,” Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s assistant for national security, said on MSNBC.

Bush met with Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the White House, while Secretary of State Colin Powell was host at a State Department luncheon with Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice, on negotiations with China and other foreign policy issues.

The U.S. negotiating team in Beijing planned to return Friday to Washington, even if Prueher gets talks on the plane restarted Thursday, the official said.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., long a critic of China, blamed former President Clinton for China’s tough position in the negotiations. ”After eight years of Bill Clinton, the Chinese communists believe we are cowardly and unprincipled, and what that is resulting in is belligerency and aggression,” he said.

The EP-3E Aries II made an emergency landing in southern China after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet. From the outset, the Bush administration has insisted its surveillance operation was legal.

China, by contrast, has insisted the plane swerved, causing the collision, and that the surveillance was improper and must cease. The Chinese pilot was lost.

The senior Chinese negotiator, in a statement read on the main evening news broadcast, said, ”The U.S. side should bear the full responsibility for the incident, make clear and responsible explanations to the Chinese people, stop reconnaissance flights in the space adjacent to Chinese coastal areas and take effective measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.”

Even as American and Chinese negotiators met in Beijing, U.S. officials in Washington were weighing the kind of weapons that might be sold to Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province that must be reunited with the mainland.

A senior administration official said President Bush’s foreign policy advisers had recommended deferring sale of Aegis-class destroyers while providing Taiwan with other, less-advanced weapons.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the president would make a decision by next Tuesday, when he is due to meet with a Taiwanese delegation.

But Boucher said no recommendations had been submitted to Bush. ”There’s a process of review and discussion that’s under way, and that continues,” the spokesman said.

The administration has tried to separate consideration of a weapons package from the dispute over U.S. reconnaissance flights. But China resents the arming of Taiwan, and its sentiments are bound to have an impact on the relationship, just as U.S. criticism of China’s human rights record does.

The White House called the initial meeting in Beijing ”not productive.”

”We made our case and they made their case,” spokesman Ari Fleischer said as Bush toured an elementary school in Waterbury, Conn.

Chinese officials had advised the United States to expect straightforward negotiations, an approach the State Department welcomed. But the Chinese also declined to say whether they would discuss return of the plane, which was filled with top-secret surveillance equipment.

The $80-million plane is believed to remain at the Hainan island air base where it made an emergency landing. Satellite photos indicate China has examined the aircraft’s listening devices and other electronics.

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