- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2001

The United States will not negotiate with China about future U.S. surveillance flights but will discuss how to prevent further incidents like the collision between the EP-3E reconnaissance plane and Chinese F-8 jet fighter on April 1, a senior administration official said last night.
"We don't view them as negotiations on that point," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Asked if the frequency or duration of future EP-3 flights would be affected by the incident, the official said: "We don't envision doing any of that."
"We're going to talk about the causes of the accident, we're going to talk about measures to try and avoid them in the future," the official said.
The official said "lots of discussions" can take place on such matters as how close U.S. and Chinese aircraft should fly and what procedures to follow to avoid a collision.
Such talks, however, "don't go to the underlying issue of whether reconnaissance flights are OK," the official said.
The two sides have not reached an agreement on the forum for the talks scheduled to be held Wednesday. They may take place through a military maritime commission set up in 1998 between the U.S. and Chinese militaries.
The talks also could be held through the State Department and the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
China's release yesterday of the 24 detained U.S. crew members is part of a deal requiring talks between the Chinese military and the Pentagon for the return of the EP-3E surveillance plane and discussion of future U.S. spy flights in the region.
Bush administration officials said yesterday the United States expects China will follow through with a "prompt" return of the aircraft, as outlined in a letter approved by President Bush resolving the dispute.
"Issues relating to the release of the EP-3 aircraft are still being discussed," said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The senior official said the state of the U.S. aircraft left behind on Hainan Island is not known.
"We want it back. There are questions … how valuable is it from an intelligence standpoint and another question is how flyable is it," the official said. State Department spokesman Phillip Reeker said "the diplomacy continues, the discussions will continue."
"The letter outlines an agenda which will include discussion of the causes of the incident, possible recommendations whereby such collisions could be avoided in the future, and development of a plan for the prompt return of our aircraft, and other related issues," Mr. Reeker said. "That's the stated agenda of that meeting, but we need to let the diplomacy continue as we evolve with the details of that."
The military flights by EP-3E Aries II electronic intelligence aircraft as well as Navy ocean surveillance ships are being carried out under the direction of the U.S. Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Center-Pacific, known as JICPAC, located in Hawaii.
The intelligence-gathering program has increased in the past several years because of China's military buildup, especially its deployment of missiles opposite Taiwan, defense officials said.
China over the past several years deployed more than 250 short-range missiles within range of Taiwan, a buildup the Pentagon views as destabilizing to the region's peace and security.
The U.S. government letter from Ambassador to China Joseph Prueher that led to the release of the 24 crew members said Wednesday's meeting will include discussions raised by Beijing on "U.S. reconnaissance missions near China."
A Pentagon official said the United States has no intention of agreeing to limits on the flights, which are legal under international law.
"We may explain to the Chinese why these flights are legal but that's the limit of the discussion," said the official.
In the background of the talks will be Chinese demands that the United States stop all U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Mr. Bush has until April 23 to decide what weapons his administration will sell to the island, which this year is requesting four Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyers.
Mr. Reeker told reporters U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are "completely separate" from the upcoming talks. "That is not an aspect of the April 18th meeting," Mr. Reeker said.
Administration officials yesterday would not release details of the diplomatic efforts over the past 11 days that led to the return of the crew.
It is not known whether any secret side agreements or "understandings" between the United States and China were included in the diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute.
Mr. Reeker said that at the meeting next week U.S. negotiators "will be developing a plan for the prompt return of the aircraft."
"We have discussed the return of our aircraft since the beginning of this incident," Mr. Reeker said. "That's still important to us. Right now, today, the priority is the return of our people."
China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued at the time of the air crew's release yesterday evening that "responsibility for this incident entirely lies with the U.S. side."

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