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Warner: Common Understanding Being Reached Between China, U.S.

Aired April 6, 2001 - 13:38   ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Live now to Capitol Hill, where Senator John Warner is talking about the China standoff -- he's the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.


SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: ... hosted for the Senate, a briefing by the departments of Defense, State and CIA on the present status of the situation with our aircraft and the Chinese aircraft.

Throughout listening -- we had a very large number of senators there, many from states from which the crew have come and have their families -- it was clear to me that on a bipartisan way here in the Senate we wish to commend President Bush, Secretary Powell, our ambassador in China and others who are working around the clock to arrange a diplomatic solution to this accident.

The Senate -- I can speak for the Senate -- has been briefed on a regular basis. All information was shared with us at all levels of intelligence today. And, of course, I will be very restrictive in my comments, other than to clearly give you my impression, and I followed this since the first day, that the talks are going very well between the United States and China.

We're moving toward a letter that will contain exchanges of views, first at the level of the ambassador and the foreign minister, but that letter is being reviewed both by our president and the president of China, so it will reflect a common understanding.

I would say that the question of an apology is not in any way to be incorporated in the letter. We have, on this side, I think quite properly and carefully, beginning as early as last Sunday, and I believe the ambassador and others, expressed regret for loss of life. That will be embraced in the letter, and we'll move towards perhaps some center selection of language to convey the sentiments of both nations.

There will be established some type of meeting framework contemporaneous with the letter, and that framework will enable the experts, those who are most knowledgeable about aircraft and other matters, to sit down and assess the facts, and at that time hopefully we can, indeed the United States, China and the world, get a better understanding of this accident which involved, regrettably, a loss of life. I'll take your questions.

QUESTION: The letter is being crafted as we speak?

WARNER: That's correct.

QUESTION: And once the letter is done, what happens then? Where does it go?

WARNER: Again, I think the executive branch should give those details. You must remember that those of us in Congress, while we have our responsibilities and we're enormously interested, given what's taken place on the floor, this situation develops every hour. But in my judgment, each development in the past 24 hours has been a positive development, both from the perspective of the United States interests, as well as China's interests.

It's my judgment, and it's confirmed by others, that certainly the leadership of China did not want an accident of this type.

It has happened. Both nations are doing the very best they can to resolve it.


WARNER: Let me make clear that the letter will contain the final expressions so it is concurred on by the respective heads of state of government, and then it will establish the type of, should we say, meeting -- is the word currently being used -- to assess, very carefully, over a period of time, the facts.

Now somewhere in that schedule we would hope there will be a timely return of our crewmen.


WARNER: Yes, let me explain a little bit of the background, if I may, with some modesty, draw on my own. When I was secretary of the Navy between 1970 and '72, I shuttled back and forth between Moscow, then the Soviet Union, and we concluded the Incidents at Sea agreement.

And that agreement is, sort of, the grandfather of those agreements all over the world now which conduct the operations of naval units on international waters as well as naval aircraft, and/or other military aircraft, in international air space. Those agreements have been copied.

It's interesting, several years ago, two or three, China and the United States had embarked on the same type of negotiation that I conducted some 30-odd years ago. And they were moving toward a conclusion of that.

So in the context of our discussions today, this meeting is going to, sort of, build on some progress that has been made to date between the United States and China on resolving, in a very professional way, military to military, how they should perform surveillance, which both countries do with regularity, and how to perform it in such a way with surface craft as well as with aircraft, all operating in international waters, to avoid the type of accident we've just experienced.


WARNER: Well, let me explain. They're essential. Let there be no doubt about that. We have to learn both -- all military nations have to learn about their respective threats and how best to respond or deter in the first instance to any threat.

Now, yes, these missions are dangerous in some respects. But we now have learned from so many accidents which we've experienced in the military that military service has a lot of risks to those who wear the uniform and to their families. But in this instance, there is one public document -- I do not have it with me, but I can make it public -- which is a demarche, as you know, that's an exchange at the top diplomatic levels between our countries.

Last fall, there were several incidences where airplanes from this basic same unit were involved, Chinese aircraft, operated too closely in the professional judgment of our aviators with the routine missions in international airspace.

There's one thing I want to make clear: There is going to be no doubt that this accident occurred in international airspace. I've seen that data, it's irrefutable.

We filed, on December 28, a formal demarche to China, designating the specific incidents that Chinese aircraft were in the proximity of our aircraft in international airspace and asked that that cease and desist. Regrettably, it did not.


WARNER: I'm going to reserve that set of facts for the administration. I think the executive branch has to deal with those specifics.


QUESTION: Based on what you said about the certainty of our being within international airspace, and the other declarations that you and others have made about the U.S. case in this, why are we having such difficult times getting ahead with China and getting them to come around to our way of thinking?

WARNER: I think you should get those answers more from old China hands, who have watched through the years how China deals with a crisis situation and how we react. I'm not saying that to discredit or fault China. It's just that they move often at a different pace than we do.

QUESTION: Do you sense more of a hard line coming...

WARNER: No, I... QUESTION: ... perhaps not hard line, but a change in direction from them?

WARNER: I would say that in following this from Sunday, when I was with, coincidentally, the chief of naval operations, through Sunday, and we were getting real-time facts out of this situation, I've been with it ever since, I clearly, give you my own personal view, that the exchange between the United States and China, particularly in the last, say, 36 hours, has been, in my judgment, very positive from the standpoint of both nations.


WARNER: I think only the executive branch should try and lay out, to the extent we can, any schedule of return or completion of the -- release of the letter, announcement of the meeting, and, hopefully, the early return of our crew.


QUESTION: Senator, is this letter a final step for a deal?

WARNER: I would say that this letter is an integral part -- I wouldn't characterize it as a deal -- an integral part of the meeting of the minds of our two governments as how, at this juncture of the analysis of this accident, we should take the steps by which our crew are returned.

QUESTION: And given that the U.S. is not budging in terms of making an apology in keeping with the line that we were in international airspace, what then are the concessions, if you will, that the U.S. is making to the Chinese to save face through all this?

WARNER: That is now being finalized in the letter.

And since those -- I wouldn't say "concessions"; I would say "meeting of the minds" -- I think it's very careful that we handle all of our discussions at this juncture with concern for the detainees, our detained crew and their families.

So I would not, to the extent that that knowledge has been shared with me, characterize it as concessions. I would simply say it's a meeting of the minds.

QUESTION: So are you announcing today that we're about to deal...

WARNER: I'm not making any announcement. I'm simply coming up to inform you that the Senate has received consultations, this being the largest today, when approached, and about half the Senate were present, and to give and share with you that information which I feel can be made available publicly.


WARNER: That word has yet not been used. You can be certain that they will make careful assessments of all aspects of this accident.

QUESTION: Senator, some of your colleagues are -- not one is not going on a CODEL -- going on a trip to China because of the situation. Others are saying unless there's a release, they won't go. Still others are thinking it's time to revoke the trade status with China. What do you think of those who are traveling, and the trade status issues?

WARNER: I've talked with a number of the heads of those CODELs. I'll just give you my own advice. I would suggest those travels be delayed until we have more clarity, but it's up to them to make that decision.

I'll give you one other viewpoint, which I share with the administration, and that is General Powell and I both have said publicly that the very important issue with regard to the Taiwan arms sale should be considered in a manner that's quite different then this incident.

ALLEN: Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Service Committee -- his committee being briefed by members of the State Department and the Defense Department on this issue. He's reiterating that talks are going well with China's officials. A letter is being drafted right now, he says, to reflect the common understanding between the two countries about what happened. He says it will not include an apology but, again, the expressions of regret that the United States has already issued. Where this leads, we don't know.



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