The team is headed by the Pentagon's Peter F. Verga, deputy undersecretary
of defense for policy support, and includes Army Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock, a
defense attaché at the U.S. embassy who led the diplomatic effort to free
the 24-member crew last week.
The United States plans to inform China that surveillance flights along
the Chinese coast will resume soon and that it expects Beijing to tell its
pilots to back off, CNN reported early Tuesday.
The U.S. team will also attempt to win the release of the $80 million
surveillance plane, which is not flyable. It would need
substantial repairs by U.S. mechanics or would be shipped out of Hainan,
provided the Chinese release the plane.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said unequivocally that the United
States wanted the plane back.
"The EP-3 aircraft is United States property. It was worth in excess of
$80 million. As the president has indicated from the outset ... that subject
will be front and center at the April 18th meetings, just as it has been
every single day since the crew landed in China," Rumsfeld said at a
Pentagon press conference Monday.
The team will also present the United States' insistence on the truth of what happened
over the South China Sea on April 1, when a Chinese F-8
collided with the EP-3. The F-8 fighter was cut in half by the accident, and the EP-3 was
heavily damaged and sent into a steep and dangerous dive. The pilot was able
to wrest control of the plane and make an emergency landing on Hainan
Island, where the crew was held for 11 days.
It is the U.S. view that the accident was China's fault, as the F-8 was
"maneuvering aggressively," coming within 10 feet of the aircraft on two
passes and colliding on the third. China has never apologized.
China has claimed since the beginning that the fault lay with the U.S.
EP-3, a larger and slower plane - a story Rumsfeld contradicted last week.
"For 12 days, one side of the story has been presented," he said. "You
know, ultimately the truth comes out, and notwithstanding efforts to the
contrary, the reality is that what actually happens in life ultimately is
known. And now is the time to begin that process. Clearly, that this will be
presented again on the 18th in the meeting, and it will be discussed widely.
And I think it's important for the world to understand exactly what happened
so that they can take that into account in their calibrations."
Verga and Sealock will also try to hammer out an agreement with the
Chinese about how to handle such incidents in the future, according to the
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