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Senator Graham Expresses Reaction to China-U.S. Standoff

Aired April 11, 2001 - 10:33   ET


STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: All morning, we have been talking about procedures that need to be undertaken before that crew can be released from Chinese detention. We can now tell you from Haikou, we are reporting that the head of U.S. diplomatic effort left his hotel a few minutes ago -- it's very late at night there, about 10:35 at night, for a meeting with local Chinese officials, presumably to discuss the pending release of the crew.

Brigadier General Neal Sealock, who hopes to meet with the 24 members in this session, but he's not clear, whether he will be able to do that or not. He will, however, scheduled to meet with Chinese officials.

So, with that update, let's turn now to Kate Snow on Capitol Hill, where there's been some saber rattling on the part of some congressman, hoping to break the logjam -- the diplomatic logjam on this, and get a sense of the reaction of these latest developments.

Kate, good morning.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Stephen. Many members of Congress are just now getting the news from their homes; many of them in their home districts this week, because they're on a two-week Easter Passover recess right now. But one senator who is here in town, Senator Bob Graham from Florida, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

We appreciate you being here in Washington this morning. Let me first get your initial reaction; you've been briefed all along on the situation. What's your reaction to the fact that the 24 crew people are coming home?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: Extremely pleased that the Chinese are releasing our servicemen; it was unfortunate that they didn't do this several days earlier. Number two, admiring of the diplomatic skills that President Bush has displayed throughout this incident. He was able to keep the matter contained, keep it within appropriate diplomatic channels avoid this incident from becoming a major source of rupture of the U.S.-Chinese relationship.

SNOW: Beyond the crew members, there's now the question of the U.S. EP-3 plane; you being on the intelligence committee, you've had several briefing about that plane. What is your understanding of the status of the plane, when the U.S. might get that plane back, and also, you were telling me about the letter that was written from Ambassador Prueher to the foreign minister of China; you said that was part of the negotiation to get the plane back?

GRAHAM: Our first priority throughout has been the return of the 24 U.S. servicemen and women. Second, was to get return of the aircraft. My understanding is there's been an agreement for a meeting which will start around the 18th of April and I would anticipate about that same time, we will see this plane placed on a barge, returned to the U.S. Navy, and they will bring it back to a U.S. port.

SNOW: Your last briefing you said was last Friday, official briefing on the matter. What is your understanding of the status of the plane? Is that plane completely stripped?

GRAHAM: The status is it is unflyable. We assume that it has been closely monitored, reviewed and maybe some of the equipment removed, that's unclear. We won't know that until we actually get possession of the plane. But that the Chinese have agreed to a process of returning it to the United States.

SNOW: Does that raise concerns to you in terms intelligence operations?

GRAHAM: Well, another unknown. The crew had about 30 minutes from the time of the collision until the plane landed to carry out its checklist of destroying the equipment which I understand can normally occur within 10 or 15 minutes. So, assuming that the aircraft was stable enough to carry out that checklist of destruction, we assume that there wasn't very much for the Chinese to look at.

SNOW: How closely have you been briefed on all of this? Have they been keeping you appraised of most of the developments, the U.S. government?

GRAHAM: Yes, we had briefings almost on a daily basis last week. Over this weekend, when we had anticipated there would be a major breakthrough and things actually seemed to harden and get more difficult as the Chinese were insisting upon the word "apology," we haven't had briefing, but I anticipate now, that things are moving towards a resolution, we will.

SNOW: And part of this, of course, because you are on that two week recess right now, it's a bit hard to get all the senators and congressmen in one room. The president, this morning, in his first comments on this was quite brief. I know you saw those comments. He seemed to sort of contain the enthusiasm and seemed to be perhaps waiting to make sure things played out. Is that an accurate characterization? Do you think that's why he's being brief?

GRAHAM: I think two things. One, the old adage, don't crow until you are certain of victory, in this case victory at this stage would mean the actual return to U.S. soil of these 24 servicemen women. And second, I think the president throughout this has been trying to stay in the background and let Secretary of State Powell, the ambassador in Beijing, be the people who were doing the direct negotiation. That was also a wise process. SNOW: One thing Chinese government has asked for or our understanding is, part of the negotiation is whether or not the U.S. will continue to run surveillance operations. Do you have any sense for whether those operations are going to continue?

GRAHAM: The president has indicated, yes, we are going to continue these flights, they are in international waters, they are perfectly legal, they are for purposes that are important to the United States' security and we have no intention to let this incident preclude us from doing what has been a consistent and legal activity for a long period of time.

SNOW: There's a lot of talk on the Hill, particularly last week, about the impact this would all have -- this incident might have on Capitol Hill, on congressional action on China, on the relationship between the U.S. and China, particularly the issue of trade is going to be coming up again, trade with China, the issue of selling military weaponry to Taiwan. Do you think that those impacts will be felt? That Congress will look at everything in the light of this incident now?

GRAHAM: It is unfortunate that this incident took the better part of a week and a half to resolve, but now that it is resolved and in a way the president is going to indicate satisfactory to the United States, I doubt that this will have any long-term scars or U.S.- Chinese relations. China is the largest country in the world, maintaining this relationship with the United States will be an important part of the security of the entire world.

We've got a lot of interest from trade to the relationship between China and Taiwan that are at stake, and we need to continue to work to see that this incident doesn't mar long-term interest.

SNOW: Thank you very much, Senator Bob Graham, appreciate you coming in on short notice with your reaction. Senator Bob Graham of Florida, the ranking Democrat of the Senate Intelligence Committee. We've talked with Republicans, staff members from that committee as well.

Senator Richard Shelby is the chairman of that committee. He's unavailable, traveling in Asia right now, but we are told that initially his staff says the initial reaction of course is positive to the release of the crew members.

Also been in touch with Senator Joseph Biden's office, Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. He says the Bush administration handled this appropriately; they walked the fine line between expressing sorrow, without acknowledging any wrongdoing by the United States. So, some initial reaction coming from Capitol Hill. Now back to you, Stephen.

FRAZIER: Kate, one question occurs to me: is Senator Graham still standing next to you there?

SNOW: He is. FRAZIER: All right, would you relay this then? We're wondering what some of the right wing in the Senate might think of these very carefully words which still are "sorry," still saying sorry over something which some members of Congress said we should never apologize for.

SNOW: Right. They are asking me to ask you about the word "sorry," and the fact that some members of Congress, not necessarily you but some of your fellow colleagues had been really reluctant to place an apology, anything that might be considered an apology.

GRAHAM: You have to put that word in the context of the specific things for which we express regret. One was the fact that the Chinese pilot lost his life. That's a humanitarian and appropriate statement. We also expressed regret that although our pilot called mayday, that that message was not received at the military base on Hainan Island, therefore, we landed technically without clearance and we were sorry there was that failure of communication.

I think those were a areas to express regret and do not indicate that we accepted any responsibility for having committed an inappropriate act.

SNOW: Will the hardliners on China feel the same way do you think? Or do you think that some on Capitol Hill may say, we shouldn't have gone that far?

GRAHAM: I believe the way President Bush has handled this matter, particularly the last few days when things were looking very dark, will gain his final acceptance to this agreement, a great deal of support on Capitol Hill.

SNOW: Thank you so much, Senator Graham, one more time, Senator Bob Graham joining us from Florida. Back to you, Stephen.

FRAZIER: Kate, Senator, thank you both.



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