U.S. diplomats await third meeting with detained crew

Friday, April 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HAIKOU, China (AP) _ China countered optimism for the quick release of a detained U.S. Navy crew, disclosing on Saturday a letter to Washington declaring that American expressions of regret over a spy plane incident were unacceptable.

``The American statements so far are still unacceptable to the Chinese side. The Chinese people are extremely dissatisfied with this,'' said the letter from Vice Premier Qian Qichen to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The letter sent Friday came as American diplomats were preparing to meet with the crew of the U.S. Navy EP-3E surveillance plane for a third time on Hainan Island in the South China Sea.

They have been held there since making an emergency landing following a collision with a Chinese jet fighter. The Chinese pilot is missing after reportedly parachuting out.

China accuses the U.S. plane of ramming the fighter about 60 miles southeast of Hainan, and of intruding into Chinese airspace by making its emergency landing on Hainan. It says it is holding the American crew while investigating.

President Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin were reviewing drafts of a letter Friday that would have a joint commission resolve the impasse and give both sides a chance to air their case. Both governments have said they want a quick end to the crisis to prevent damage to already thorny relations.

Bush and Powell expressed regret over the loss of the Chinese pilot, though both refused Chinese demands for an apology.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman had described Powell's comment as ``a step in the right direction'' toward ending the standoff. But Qian's letter was the first official Chinese response since Bush expressed regret on Thursday.

Qian asked ``the U.S. side to face up to the facts and to adopt a positive attitude toward them and to apologize to the Chinese people,'' the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

``This is the key issue to solving the problem.'' In the meantime, it said, ``both sides can continue to hold talks on handling the aftermath of the collision.''

Chinese officials promised a meeting Saturday with the 21 men and three women of the EP-3E crew, said Army Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock, the U.S. Embassy military attache.

``We are positive it will take place,'' Sealock said in Haikou, the capital of Hainan. The general met with the crew on Tuesday and Friday.

In Beijing, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Prueher praised the crew for ``acting just like their parents would like them to act.''

``I can only tell you we are having meetings. We are in contact and we are still very hard at work,'' Prueher said.

U.S. diplomats on Hainan shopped on Saturday for more supplies for the crew, including contact lens solution and cigarettes. There was no indication what time the third meeting with them was to take place.

Xinhua also reported that the wife of the missing Chinese pilot, Wang Wei, wrote to Bush on Friday.

The text of the letter from Ruan Guoqin carried by Xinhua echoed official Chinese comments blaming the United States for the collision. It accused Bush and his administration of being ``too cowardly'' to offer an apology, and said they defamed Wang.

``Our 6-year-old son has kept asking me when his father will come home,'' Ruan reportedly wrote. ``I pray and call out time and again hoping in tears that there will be a miracle.''

It was unclear when the letter was sent. A U.S. Embassy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that a letter from Ruan was delivered Saturday to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and that it would be forwarded to Bush. He declined to provide further details.