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Morale Reported to be High With Crewmembers

Aired April 6, 2001 - 14:03   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's see what more we can learn about the efforts of the diplomats and check in with the State Department briefing that's going on now. Here's spokesman Richard Boucher.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I'm not in a position to talk about what Senator Warner may or may not have said.

QUESTION: Let's talk about what really is said. Is there such a meeting being set up, whether Senator Warner said it, or not?

BOUCHER: Sorry. What such a meeting?

QUESTION: A meeting between the two sides that will enable the experts who are most knowledgeable about aircraft and other matters to sit down and assess the facts.

BOUCHER: The secretary talked to you about exchanging explanations. He said that was what we saw as part of the solution. And we have told you since then, he's told you, I've told you, that we're working on ways of doing that, finding ways to do that, finding ways to resolve the issue, finding ways to exchange explanations, and to reach a better understanding of these -- this situation. So, but beyond that, I'm just not prepared to go today.

QUESTION: You're not ruling out that that could be between experts at a table from both sides?

BOUCHER: It could be at a table or not with a table.

QUESTION: Richard, can you say whether the people who met with the families today were able to meet with them without Chinese officials present?

BOUCHER: Yes. They met with -- they met with the air crew. It was, as you know, General Neal Sealock, our defense attache from Beijing, Ted Gong (ph), our consular section chief from the consular general at Guangzhou, met with the air crew today. They met with all of them in a group, for some time, I believe, without any Chinese presence and then they met with some of the individuals as well.

QUESTION: Could you categorize, at this point, our access as free or unfettered or fettered and restrained or... BOUCHER: I don't think I can completely characterize it for you now. Obviously, it's not completely open, we can't just drop in any time and go see them. We would like as much access as we can. We would like regular access. We would like unfettered access. Clearly, in the meeting today, there were a few less fetters than there were on Tuesday. But as far as having the kind of access that we're looking for, we'll continue to press for free and completely unfettered...

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BOUCHER: I can't make any predictions.

QUESTION: Was there anything that the airman told our officials today that you can tell us before you had said that they had talked about being interrogated by the Chinese, and is there anything else like that? Have the Chinese continued to question them?

BOUCHER: I went through, with several of the people who got the readouts, I didn't go through the whole readout myself, there was no new mentioning or indication of questioning at this point. Now whether that's just because we don't have a complete readout or they didn't ask the question -- but there certainly, as the secretary, I think, said to you earlier, was no indication of any kind of mistreatment or interrogation, you might say. But exactly whether the Chinese are asking them questions about the accident or not, I don't know.

OK. Let's keep moving around -- next.

QUESTION: Would the United States like to see some sort of written agreement or documentation of this process?

BOUCHER: I'm not going to comment one way or the another on the ways that we might resolve this.

QUESTION: What role the U.N. playing, if the U.S. has asked the United Nations to -- on any help, or play any role, and also if this matter came between the secretary and the Indian foreign minister's visit here just -- he just left the building?

BOUCHER: I don't think there's any particular discussion with the United Nations at this point. The details are being discussed between the United States and China in very intensive bilateral discussions for the last day or two in Beijing and Washington. So far today they've all been in Beijing.

The subject did come up in the secretary's meetings with the Indian foreign minister. They just generally discussed the situation. There was nothing in particular that we're asking the Indians to do in this situation -- Betsy.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BOUCHER: I don't know of any meetings with him scheduled at this point. Jonathan, you were asking when's the next contact. Even at this very late hour there's still the possibility of more contact in Beijing. So we'll have to see where it occurs. There's nothing particular -- nothing specific scheduled here or in Beijing at this moment. But I don't want to rule it out happening in either place. We haven't -- in Beijing they haven't shutdown for the night yet.

QUESTION: Has there been any contact with the Jiang Zemin party or anybody in the...

BOUCHER: Not that I'm aware of, no.

QUESTION: Richard, do you know when the next meeting of this maritime cooperation commission...

BOUCHER: Military -- Maritime Military -- Military Maritime Consultative Arrangements?

QUESTION: Correct. You said the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) San Francisco.

BOUCHER: Previously we checked, it was scheduled late April to have a regular meeting. But, obviously -- well, not -- obviously, you can figure out anything else you want to figure out. I'm not going to go into comment.

QUESTION: Well, is the venue still the same?

BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any change in that. But I'd just leave it at that.

QUESTION: Now, can we just take it a step back? Without any...

BOUCHER: Step back? Good. Step further, no.

QUESTION: I think it'll be a step back and a step further perhaps. You decide whether you want to go there or not. Is this the kind of forum the United States and China might look to -- or the United States might look to, to have a discussion about incidents such as these?

BOUCHER: I think we can consider that there might be various ways of discussing the explanations, discussing the incident -- the accident, stick to the same terminology. I don't think it's in our interest, at this stage in our discussions, to start specifying one way of doing -- having these discussions or another. This commission exists. It has regular meetings. I suppose it could have other meetings. I suppose other things could be set up. There's always diplomatic channels. So, I don't want to start, at this point, fixating or fingering a particular mechanism.

We are in discussions with the Chinese about the precise details, but in order to carry-out these discussions productively, constructively, I think it's behooves me to stop -- not to speculate or to lead you in any particular direction.

QUESTION: OK, did Senator Warners comments this afternoon hurt the process?

BOUCHER: I'm afraid I don't have anything to say about Senator Warner's comments.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you're talking about specific details. Is that specific details of what happened, or could you explain more with specific details about a release? What kind of details?

BOUCHER: The way the secretary described the precise -- rather precise ideas as to how to bring this to a conclusion. The -- how to establish the process of release of the crew, release of the air -- you know -- return of the aircraft, exchanging explanations, expressions of regret, those sorts of things: Precise ideas about how those elements about how the elements that we're interested in and the Chinese are interested in can be brought together so that this can be concluded.

QUESTION: So, by using "precise" we're quite far along then. You're not just talking in generalities anymore. Yes? No?

BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: Good.

BOUCHER: But, I -- yes we're not talking in generalities anymore. As far as characterizing how far along we are, I think I'll just say we're moving forward. We're encouraged by the fact that...

QUESTION: But he also said they're exchanging precise ideas and papers. Is that -- that's an implication of some sort of joint statement or agreement or this letter that Secretary Warner -- Senator Warner didn't talk about? Is that...

BOUCHER: I don't remember the secretary using the word "papers."

QUESTION: He did. He used papers.

BOUCHER: All right.

(CROSSTALK)

BOUCHER: No, it's OK. No, I'm not going to define the papers any.

Oh, yes he did, "And exchanging ideas in papers. There has been movement." That's -- I'm afraid as far as I can go.

QUESTION: Richard, as far as this letter drafting process, are you now thinking of sending anyone senior to Beijing?

BOUCHER: As far as this exchange of ideas and papers, I don't have anything new on any -- speculation about what might be inside the exchange of ideas and papers.

QUESTION: Are you thinking of sending anybody senior... BOUCHER: I don't have anything to say on that.

QUESTION: To use a term from the peace process. Can you talk about the parameters of the idea. I mean, I'm asking because is this simply just about the terms for getting back the crew and the plane, or is this in some way, laying out the road rules, if you will, for how to deal in espionage issues in the future with China, or are you talking about greater bilateral concerns?

BOUCHER: I thought I took an oath on January 20th never to use the word "parameters" again. We're talking about the modalities.

We are talking about the modalities. We're talking about the ways in which to bring this to a conclusion. The ideas, the elements, to bring this to a conclusion. And that's as far as I can go at this point.

QUESTION: Richard, you said that in the second meeting with the crew there was no talk about further attempts by the Chinese to interrogate them. But are the Chinese still telling you that they would like to interrogate the crew.

BOUCHER: I don't think the Chinese ever used that word, frankly -- not with us. But I mean, what's important to us for the crew, we know from before that the crew said they'd been asked questions about the accident. There was no -- as much of the readout as I have of latest meeting -- there was no specific mention of that, so I can't tell you one way or the other whether they are still asking questions. But there was no mention of mistreatment or of specific interrogations.

QUESTION: Richard you talked about exchanges of ideas and pieces of paper with the government of China. Can you say whether this -- whether we are exchanging ideas and pieces of paper with Qian Qichen and Jiang Zemin while they're on their trip in South America?

BOUCHER: I think it's for the Chinese government to keep in touch with their leadership as they travel. As you know, the secretary wrote a letter to vice premier Qian Qichen Wednesday evening that we passed to Ambassador Jiang (ph) so he could forward it through their system to Vice Premier Qichen and any other members that needed to see it.

At this stage the discussions are being held between -- for the most of the last 12-16, perhaps more, hours, the discussions have been between our ambassador in Beijing and the assistant's vice foreign minister, Qio yang Qion (ph), each of them we know, we assume, are communicating with other people in their governments. Our ambassador certainly talks to -- Washington talks to Deputy Secretary Armitage, Secretary Powell throughout the night and into the morning and during the day.

QUESTION: Did he ever get a written response to his letter, Secretary Powell?

BOUCHER: I don't think there'd something that -- no. Not a letter, Dear Colin, from Qian Qichen. I mean, not that precise a response, but the whole discussion is a response. The ideas that we've put forward, that the secretary's put forward in writing or orally, ideas the Chinese have put forward, and then working with these ideas to try to bring this to a conclusion.

So in a way, yes, the Chinese responded to the elements of the secretary's letter and we've responded to some elements that they've raised and now we're trying to work to bring this to a conclusion without any prediction, at this point, of when we might be able to do that, or even without any certainty that we will be able to do that in this fashion.

QUESTION: Richard you just went a step beyond what you said before about this letter. The secretary actually set out a list of "here's something that we could do, what would you think if we did this," a list of, you know, a variety of possibilities that...

BOUCHER: The letter was a piece of paper with ideas and that's as...

QUESTION: Yes, but you just said some of the ideas that the secretary put forward. Before, the description of the letter had been an expression, a restatement of the regret for the loss of the plane...

BOUCHER: That was in there too.

QUESTION: Right, but there had never been anything said in the U.S. desire to see this over with, and you guys want your plane back and the crew.

BOUCHER: That was in there too.

QUESTION: Right, but you had not said before that there were ideas in there, the secretary had suggested, about resolving the situation.

BOUCHER: Well, then I'm properly castigated for having said something new.

QUESTION: No, I want you to expand on it. I think it's great that you said something new.

BOUCHER: No, I'm afraid I'm not in a position to expand on it. I was trying to give you as of a sense of how this process was working as I could without getting into the details that are, in fact, being discussed without getting into the real -- to the ideas.

QUESTION: Are the Chinese still requesting an apology as part of any settlement?

BOUCHER: I think that's a question you have to ask the Chinese. I think I've seen statements today from foreign ministry and elsewhere that talked about the apology. Our position certainly has not changed on that point. QUESTION: At the present time (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in which American diplomatic personnel (UNINTELLIGIBLE) will they make any (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with any exchange to take place?

BOUCHER: I can't predict everything that might happen. I, having been at those occasions before, that's not necessarily the best place to try to buttonhole a visiting president and work out the details in sensitive parameters of negotiation. So I think the emphasis should be on the channel we are using, and that's to have our ambassador talk very frequently and closely with the assistant foreign minister in Beijing, and then leave it to the Chinese government to communicate with their leadership.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) In the meeting with the Indian foreign minister if India offered any help in this Chinese stand-off, or if U.S. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) asked foreign minister in help in this connection?

BOUCHER: Nothing like that transpired. They were interested, obviously, in where things stood. They talked, to some extent, about the broader relationship with China and the region. They discussed a number of regional issues as well as the bilateral ones.

QUESTION: Richard, by my calculations is almost 2:30 in the morning in Beijing. What is it that's keeping them up this late? Have they been up this late other nights? Is there something that you can say they're actually engaged in now?

BOUCHER: At this precise moment there is no meeting going on. But I think, as I said, they haven't closed down for the night. I was not able to determine, at this point, whether there's going to be another meeting in Beijing. But I think they're still open and ready should there be a chance of one.

So, we've been going back and forth with the Chinese at all hours and various places. Certainly our ambassador has been working 24 hours a day and our embassy's been working 24 hours a day and been in touch with the Chinese in all kinds of early hours and late hours. So, I'm not too surprised. It is very early in the morning, though, and in the past few days we've tended to shift the action, at some point, from Beijing -- let them get some sleep, try to get some sleep, or whatever, and then pick up it here. I don't know whether we will do that today or if we'll just continue periodically through the night in Beijing.

QUESTION: What does it look like for the weekend? Are we on -- I mean, I realize you don't have meeting set up but do you expect things to continue at full steam ahead?

BOUCHER: I would basically expect us, from the U.S. side, including the people in Washington and the secretary, to be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as long as we're still seeing our crew members detained, as long as we are -- we don't have them back with us and as long as we have yet to resolve these issues. So, as long as there's prospect of resolving these issues we will keep working. QUESTION: I have two questions. Was Secretary Powell up again, in the middle of the night, talking to the ambassador, and, also, has there been any consideration at all of him postponing his trip?

Or sending someone else to the contact group meeting?

BOUCHER: Not at this point. We're working this issue should that question arise. If it arrives closer to the time of the trip. I'm not aware that it's arisen at this point. And you know the secretary has the kind of communications he needs wherever he is. So many of the things he's doing, you know, talking to Admiral Preer (ph), talking to people at the White House and the Pentagon, working with our China experts, many times working with Deputy Secretary Armitage, can be done anywhere he can get to a telephone or a secure telephone, depending on what he has to talk about.

So, he's in good communications wherever he travels, so I haven't heard that arise at this stage. In terms of his activities last night, I've -- he got calls late last night -- I don't know 11 o'clock, midnight or something like that, and then I think he got calls first thing in the morning, so there wasn't a lot of time in between, but I don't think he was up at 2:30 a.m. At least he hadn't said that today.

QUESTION: Richard has there been any hindrance on he appointments, the lack of appointments in the building? I mean, I realize Armitage is a very experienced diplomat and handling everything fine, but there's not so much staff underneath that has yet been put into place. Of the new staff, of the new appointments?

BOUCHER: We're all, here.

I don't think I would cite any particular aspect of that at this point. As you know, Deputy Secretary Armitage has been working this very intensely. Undersecretary Grossman has been working on this. He called in the Chinese ambassador on Sunday and had the meeting, so we've had people in place. I suppose, clearly, we would like to have the assistant to secretary for East Asian Affairs on board but we have plenty of expertise, certainly plenty of China expertise and people on the desk and at senior levels in the bureau that are working this very intensely as well.

QUESTION: I was just thinking because nobody's getting any...

WATERS: Intense negotiation, according to Richard Boucher, a spokesman at the State Department giving us the clearest indication that progress is being made. Although he would not comment on what Senator John Warner referred to earlier as a letter being drafted by both sides laying out the ways to end this standoff between the United States and China. As Senator Warner put it, "There is an exchange of ideas and papers underway."

While Richard Boucher has no comment on the letter, or on ways we may resolve it, we are looking for ways to reach a better understanding and that perhaps there will be more contact, even at this late hour in Beijing -- it's almost 2:25 in the morning in Beijing -- Boucher saying the foreign ministry remains open there, and there is a chance there might be more meetings today. As you know, there was a second meeting between U.S. officials and the 24 aircrewmen and women being held on Hainan Island.

That happened earlier today, and there's another meeting scheduled between the diplomats and the crew tomorrow. That is a change. We've gotten a photograph of the crew. President Bush has gotten a telephone call from the U.S. military attache who's been meeting with these folks telling the president that the morale is high. Everybody in good shape. And -- and the president was pleased to that. We heard from the president today, say he was pleased about that.

Twenty-four-seven is the schedule for diplomats working on this. There may a be resolution soon, but we are continuing to keep watch. That's the latest from the State Department and the diplomats working on the case.

We will take a break.

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