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Special Event

McClellan Echoes Bush View Towards Crew Members Downed in China

Aired April 2, 2001 - 1:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Attention again turned to the White House. The focus today is the crippled U.S. military spy plane and his crew of 24 on the ground in China. No response from Chinese leadership. In the briefing room, spokesman Scott McClellan. Let's listen to the Q&A.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: Does the president have a reaction to the fact that the Chinese have apparently boarded the spy plane?

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: I don't have any information on that.

QUESTION: Well, U.S. officials say it happened, so does the president not know that that's case?

MCCLELLAN: I'm not aware of that.

QUESTION: Scott, the president said, when he talked about matter, "further" tampering, which indicated that he knew something had happened.

MCCLELLAN: Well, again...

QUESTION: No, he said "further damage."

QUESTION: No, he said "further tampering."

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Scott, has the plane been tampered with? To what extent has the plane been tampered with?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think the president's statement was very clear.

QUESTION: No, it wasn't, Scott. He didn't even address this.

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I have no information on whether or not the plane has been boarded by Chinese officials.

QUESTION: Can this really be characterized as an accident or as a result of an attack?

MCCLELLAN: We consider it a midair accident.

QUESTION: Accident?

MCCLELLAN: Yes, accident, that's correct.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, do you not have information about whether the plane was boarded, or does the United States not have that information?

MCCLELLAN: I do not have that information.

QUESTION: You're not saying it doesn't exist. You just don't have it.

MCCLELLAN: I have no information to that effect, so I think I've addressed it.

MCCLELLAN: I think I've addressed it, though.

QUESTION: But you're not disputing it.

MCCLELLAN: Well, I don't know where your reports are coming from, so I'd refer you to State Department or the Pentagon on that.

QUESTION: Well, can't we get some reaction from the president on this?

MCCLELLAN: Again, I think what he said earlier was that it's very troubling, the lack of speed, in allowing us the diplomatic access to the crew.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: I understand that, but I think I addressed it, that I have no information about what you're referring to.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MCCLELLAN: It was a routine mission over international airspace, as we indicated earlier.

QUESTION: Scott, in any of the conversations that the administration has had with Chinese officials, have they indicated that the Chinese response to this -- I don't want to call it a foreign policy crisis, but foreign policy challenge -- may impact the U.S. decision to sell four Arleigh-Burke class destroyers to Taiwan?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, on the question of arms sale to Taiwan, no decision has been made at this point. We do...

QUESTION: The question was, have you indicated to the Chinese that how they respond to this may have some influence on the president's decision to sell... MCCLELLAN: I think right now the focus is on getting access to the crew, and that's the focus and that's the issue we're focused on right now, immediate access to the crew.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Has anybody from the administration said to the Chinese, "How you respond to this, how quickly you give us access to the crew, how quickly you let the crew go, may have some impact on our decision to sell these arms to Taiwan"?

MCCLELLAN: I'll see if I can find out more for you.

QUESTION: Scott, have the Chinese at least given some indication of the condition of all the Americans?

MCCLELLAN: The Chinese government has indicated that the crew is safe, and they have indicated that they are providing assistance to the crew.

QUESTION: Does the United States have an obligation toward the Chinese who were downed, reparations or apology or anything of that sort?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think the president addressed that in his statement. At the end of his statement this morning, he said, we have offered to provide search and rescue assistance to help the Chinese government locate the missing aircraft and the pilot as well.

QUESTION: Is there an obligation on the part of the United States?

MCCLELLAN: Well, we've offered our assistance.

QUESTION: Did they accept the offer?

QUESTION: They have not acted.

MCCLELLAN: No, they have not.

QUESTION: Scott, this morning you said the president was fully engaged. He met with the secretary of state, he's met with his defense secretary, and yet, you, speaking for him, cannot tell us whether he has any knowledge or you have knowledge of whether the plane has been boarded. They report to the president. He's been meeting with them all day. Unless he's fully engaged or not -- don't you know whether the plane has been boarded?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I'd refer you to the State Department. I've addressed the question. And if I have more information for you, I'll give it to you later.

QUESTION: The State Department doesn't have any information. I just came back from the briefing and they don't...

(CROSSTALK) MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry. On the what?

QUESTION: Richard Boucher just answered several questions on this very issue, and he didn't have much information.

MCCLELLAN: Well, if we have more information to provide, we will.

QUESTION: Has the Chinese government indicated that consular officials would be given access to the detained crewmembers by a certain time, like by tomorrow? Is that accurate? Is that good enough?

MCCLELLAN: Well, it's still troubling, the lack of speed of their response. Chinese officials told Ambassador Prueher that late morning, D.C. time, that consular officials may have access late Tuesday night.

QUESTION: May or will?

MCCLELLAN: That they may have access late Tuesday night.

QUESTION: Have they said why they haven't given us access up to this point? Have they given us a reason why?

MCCLELLAN: The State Department just had a briefing, so...

QUESTION: Tuesday night here or there?

MCCLELLAN: That's their time, China.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Is there any response to the president's appeal a little while ago?

MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Is that in response to what the president -- his statement a few minutes ago, this commitment to have access Tuesday night?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I mean, we find it very troubling about the lack of speed in responding, and we continue to press for prompt access that is as early as possible, without any further delay.

QUESTION: We're trying to get the sequence of events. Did the notification that consular officials could see them by late Tuesday night their time, did that notification come after the president's statement here, do you know? We're just trying to establish a sequence of events.

QUESTION: Is there anything around the same time frame?

MCCLELLAN: I'll try and get you a readout on that afterwards.

QUESTION: So they're saying, if we see them at all, it won't be for another 20 hours?

MCCLELLAN: That's the indication from the Chinese government.

QUESTION: What have we said back to them?

MCCLELLAN: We continue to express what the president earlier today, that we would like immediate access to the crew.

QUESTION: So the president of the United States tells China he wants immediate access and they say, "Well, maybe you'll get it in 20 hours"?

MCCLELLAN: We're continuing to talk with Chinese officials, both in Washington and Beijing, and we're continuing to move for that to happen as quickly as possible.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Is there a time line that the White House and the State Department is setting for the return of the plane, as well as seeing the crewmembers?

MCCLELLAN: Well, to have access to the crew as quickly as possible without any further delay, and we've made that clear. They have indicated that the crew is safe, but our first priority is the crew, and the aircraft as well.

QUESTION: Is there a time frame in this quickness? Is the immediate time frame...

MCCLELLAN: Well, we're discussing that right now with Chinese officials in saying that we would like that access as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Scott, you just said, though, that if you have access to the people is most important, but also the plane. If that's true, then what about this report that the plane has already been boarded?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I've already addressed that question. And if there's more...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: Well, I've addressed that question earlier. So if we have more information on that, I'll get it to you.

QUESTION: What's our reading of international law, as regard to the plane? The Chinese have any right to go on the plane?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think the State Department addressed that at the briefing, so I'd refer you to the State Department.

QUESTION: They don't have any right to go on board. We have the right to demand...

MCCLELLAN: Well, the State Department addressed that. QUESTION: Do the Chinese consider this as a spying mission from the United States to their land, and that's why they act this way?

MCCLELLAN: This was a routine surveillance mission by U.S. Navy aircraft.

QUESTION: Reverse the situation for a moment: How would President Bush feel if Chinese aircraft would be routinely flying just off the shore of San Francisco?

MCCLELLAN: Well, you're getting into a hypothetical situation, but this...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: Both sides have said that this happened 75 miles south of Hainan Island.

QUESTION: I mean, if the U.S. does it, then Chinese can do it, too, right?

MCCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into a hypothetical situation right now.

QUESTION: Isn't the president concerned about anti-American feelings in China?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I think, you know, he had the meeting with the vice premier of China, Qian Qichen, and they had a productive meeting, and both expressed that they would like to strengthen our relations, strengthen that relationship.

QUESTION: Immediate access to the crew or what?

MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: You're demanding immediate access to the crew.

MCCLELLAN: To the crew and to the aircraft.

QUESTION: Or what? What's the other shoe?

MCCLELLAN: Well, that's what we're continuing to discuss with Chinese officials.

QUESTION: When do you stop discussing and start acting?

MCCLELLAN: Well, you know, again, when we have more information for you, I will get that to you.

But we continue to press -- because that's our first priority, the crew -- that we have direct access to them.

QUESTION: You're suggesting that in response to them saying, "Maybe Tuesday, 20 hours from now," that you continue to talk and that you're still impatient -- the president is still impatient with the timetable. So should we conclude from that that the response to that was, "No, that's not good enough. We need to keep talking"?

MCCLELLEN: To the response to -- I'm sorry?

QUESTION: The U.S. has told China that's not good enough, haven't they? Haven't we told the Chinese it's not good enough to see them in 20 hours?

MCCLELLEN: Absolutely. Yes. We have indicated immediate access. The president indicated that earlier today as well.

QUESTION: The president said that the Chinese should act promptly to be consistent with their request for good relations with the United States government. You have said now that you don't consider this action prompt enough. Does that mean that China, with respect to the White House, is acting in a way that's inconsistent with good relations with this country?

MCCLELLEN: Well, he indicated earlier that it is inconsistent with standard diplomatic practice and with also what both countries expressed in the meeting recently, which was for better relations.

QUESTION: So what they're doing now is inconsistent with that, and therefore causing even more problems with these relations?

MCCLELLEN: Well, it's inconsistent with the standard diplomatic practice.

QUESTION: At the State Department, Richard...

MCCLELLEN: Let me go...

QUESTION: ... Richard Boucher was asked whether we knew where the crew was physically; whether it was in the plane, on the base, wherever it was. He said he didn't know. Does the White House know where the crew is physically?

MCCLELLAN: If I have more information, I'll get that to you. But State Department...

QUESTION: There are reports that they're in some kind of guest house, what they call a guest house.

MCCLELLAN: Well, what the Chinese government have indicated to us is that they are providing humanitarian assistance to the crew. That's the information I have at this time.

QUESTION: The question back here wasn't where they are, he was just asking does the White House know where they are. I think it's a yes or a no.

MCCLELLAN: Well, the Chinese government has indicated that they're safe and that they're providing humanitarian assistance to them, so I think you can assume from that.

QUESTION: That we know where they are right now?

MCCLELLAN: That the Chinese government is, like I said, providing assistance.

QUESTION: Does the White House know where they are right now?

QUESTION: Meaning they've been taken off the plane?

QUESTION: So we don't know?

MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Meaning they've been taken off the plane?

MCCLELLAN: I'll get back to you on that. I'll see if we have...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Last week, the president said that the U.S. is not a threat to China. How about if China is a threat to the U.S., number one?

Number two, are Chinese spying on the U.S.?

MCCLELLAN: Well, do you have something to bring to my attention?

QUESTION: Well, the president said that U.S. is not threat to China; how about if China is threat to the U.S. security?

MCCLELLAN: If China what?

QUESTION: Is China is threat to the United States?

QUESTION: Is China a threat to U.S. security?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... they are flying off the shore of San Francisco. Do they do that?

MCCLELLAN: You know, I'd refer you to the Defense Department on that question. I'm not aware of any...

QUESTION: What's the explanation for different interpretation of international law?

MCCLELLAN: Let me come back. Let me go around.

QUESTION: Scott, two questions.

QUESTION: Couldn't these missions be conducted by drones or satellite? Do we have to have people on a plane to conduct these dangerous...

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think that's a question for the Pentagon. But this is a routine mission that we have been conducting.

QUESTION: And also, the president said our embassy officials are on the ground. Does that mean they are actually on the island? STAFF: They're in Hainan Island.

MCCLELLAN: OK. They are there.

STAFF: Yes.

QUESTION: They are there.

QUESTION: Scott, let me put my question in a different way. The president said last week that U.S. is not a threat to China; he meant that the security threat or military threat. How about if China is threat to the United States, as far as a military threat is concerned?

MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: I think what he means, the U.S. has said that deployment of national missile defense should not be interpreted by China as a threat...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: Right. That was addressed after the meeting with the vice premier. So I think that that's already previously been addressed.

QUESTION: On Condoleezza Rice, before she became national security adviser she was on the board of directors of Chevron Corporation. And Chevron, before she left, named an oil tanker after her. There's an oil tanker named the Condoleezza Rice.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: It's a 136-ton oil tanker that carries oil around the world. And given that Chevron's been accused of human rights abuses with the Nigerian mobile police against civilians in Nigeria, I'm wondering whether the president thinks it wise to have this close a relationship with Chevron.

MCCLELLAN: I think that issue has already been addressed by Dr. Rice. And she will uphold the highest ethical standards in office...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... call the president of Chevron and say, "Take the name off the tanker"?

MCCLELLAN: I think the issue has been addressed.

QUESTION: I have another question, not related to China. President Bush invited Mr. Sharon...

WATERS: White House spokesman Scott McClellan amplifying the President Bush demand that we heard earlier today of immediate access to the air crew of 24 now being held on the island of Hainan in the People's Republic of China. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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