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Bush Welcomes EP-3 Crewmembers Home

Aired April 12, 2001 - 15:14   ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Up in the newsroom here we're watching -- today, of course, is the day; after 12 days of being held at Hainan Island in China, the 24 crewmembers of that plane have now returned. They're at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, arriving earlier in the day; about three hours ago. Pretty much on schedule. The Air Force brought them in and we saw -- watching live here on CNN, the 24 crewmembers -- three of them are women -- arriving at Hickam for the greeting there.

Now, this has not been called the official military welcome or homecoming. This was more of a formality, as they are brought to Hickam for some military debriefing as well as some health checks as well while there are at Hickam Air Force Base.

We are standing by -- in just a moment we are anticipating hearing from President Bush. It is his first remark of the day about the arrival of the crewmembers back onto U.S. soil. We understood that Mr. Bush wants to try to get ahold of the crew, all the members of the crew by telephone while they were at Hickam. Apparently there had been an effort to try to hook him up with them while they were at Guam; but that, somehow, didn't work out. So he was going to try to speak with the crewmembers while they are at Hickam and possibly make the remarks in conjunction with that.

Again, we're standing by for President Bush. Shortly after this, however, we do anticipate that he will move on. The president intends to speak the Easter weekend holiday at his family ranch in Crawford, Texas.

There you see President Bush coming out of the White House, coming out to the Rose Garden to make his statement to the reporters there. And let us listen to the president.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A short time ago, I had the opportunity to speak to the 24 members of our United States flight crew and welcome them home to America. I told them they represent the best of American patriotism and service to their country.

They did their duty with honor and with great professionalism. They are a reminder of the debt of gratitude all Americans owe to the men and women who wear our country's uniform and who voluntarily risk their lives in the service of freedom.

We are proud of our crew, and I am glad that they will be with their families this Easter weekend.

I know I speak for all Americans in saluting their courage and the extraordinary skill of the pilot, Navy Lieutenant Osborn, who guided the severely damaged aircraft to an emergency landing that saved 24 lives.

We're looking forward to talking with the flight crew about exactly how the accident happened. From all the evidence we have seen, the United States aircraft was operating in international airspace, in full accordance with all laws, procedures and regulations, and did nothing to cause the accident.

The United States and China have agreed that representatives of our governments will meet on April 18 to discuss the accident. I will ask our United States representative to ask the tough questions about China's recent practice of challenging United States aircraft operating legally in international airspace.

Reconnaissance flights are a part of a comprehensive national security strategy that helps maintain peace and stability in our world. During the last 11 days, the United States and China have confronted strong emotions, deeply held and often conflicting convictions, and profoundly different points of view.

China's decision to prevent the return of our crew for 11 days is inconsistent with the kind of relationship we have both said we wish to have.

As we move forward, the United States and China will no doubt again face difficult issues and fundamental disagreements. We disagree on important, basic issues, such as human rights and religious freedom. At times, we have different views about the path to a more stable and secure Asian-Pacific region.

We have different values, yet common interests in the world. We agree on the importance of trade, and we want to increase prosperity for our citizens. We want the citizens of both our countries to enjoy the benefits of peace in the world. So we need to work together on global security problems, such as preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

I will always stand squarely for American interests and American values. And those will, no doubt, sometimes cause disagreements with China, yet I will approach our differences in a spirit of respect.

The kind of incident we have just been through does not advance a constructive relationship between our two countries.

Both the United States and China must make a determined choice to have a productive relationship that will contribute to a more secure, more prosperous and more peaceful world.

I know I speak for all Americans when I say, "Welcome home," to our flight crew.

I want to thank the families for your patience and for your sacrifice.

And I wish all my fellow Americans a rich and meaningful Easter and Passover.

God bless.

CHEN: President Bush not taking questions, just making a brief statement to reporters at the Rose Garden before he goes off for his holiday weekend at the family ranch in Crawford, Texas. The president making the statement that we thought would sort of officially welcome back the U.S. crewmembers of that plane that had been detained in China over 12 days, honoring them for their professionalism and thanking them of their efforts; but also making a bit of an underline about the U.S. position with China.

Joining us now from the White House lawn is CNN's Major Garrett.

Major, can you talk to us a little bit about the president's statement? It contains some rather firm language about China -- went beyond sort of that welcome home greeting that we were anticipating.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Joie. That statement was about half "welcome home," and the other half was devoted to the new Chinese-U.S. relationship. And senior advisers have been telling us that after this 11-day standoff, the United States views China in a different light now.

Even during the campaign President Bush called China not a strategic partner, but a strategic competitor. And three president hid three very important signals in that statement -- first and foremost saying that we're going to ask our crew all the questions to find out exactly what happened, but reiterating that all evidence the United States have was that surveillance flight was occupying international airspace and did nothing wrong and that the Chinese are going to have to explain for themselves at this April 18 meeting, when the two countries will meet, exactly what happened.

Also the president said that the Chinese behavior during the 11- day standoff was inconsistent with the kind of relationship it says it wants to have with the United States, a clear signal that the president views China in a different light.

Thirdly, the president said the Chinese behavior does not advance a constructive relationship and that both nations will have to make a determined choice to improve relations. The White House knows that, in the aftermath of the crew's arrival on U.S. soil, many people in the business community and the political community and the international affairs community were going to look to this White House to see what kind of signals it would send. Would it suggest that all is well, all differences are papered over -- the screw is back, we're now back to where we were beforehand?

This message clearly indicates things are not as they were beforehand and the president has some serious issues with the Chinese government -- Joie. CHEN: CNN's Major Garrett for us at the White House this afternoon. And a note to our viewers, you did see the president going out and stepping into his vehicle, his limousine, being taken off on the first leg of his trip. He is going home, as we noted, to the family ranch in Crawford, Texas for the holiday weekend. And Major Garrett staying behind at the White House -- continue (sic) our coverage through the day.



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