Tags: Pentagon: | Deal | Yet | Plane's | Return

Pentagon: No Deal Yet on Plane's Return

Thursday, 24 May 2001 12:00 AM

"The discussions are ongoing," he said at a news conference.

Rumsfeld said the United States has offered China two possibilities -- for the plane to be repaired and flown back under its own power, the Pentagon's preferred option, or for its wings to be removed and the entire plane packed into a massive Russian-built cargo jet for the return trip.

Rumsfeld said the Chinese are concerned about the "stress factors on the runway" presented by the weight of the cargo plane. He said an American team of flight engineers did not think the runway would pose a problem.

"It is an issue the (People's Republic of China) has raised," Rumsfeld said.

Vice President Richard Cheney said Sunday on NBC that he expected the aircraft would have to be dismantled and crated home because it was in such bad shape. But Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said Tuesday that the aircraft could be fixed in two to three weeks by a team of 15 to 25 mechanics and flight engineers.

Earlier Thursday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said, "The United States has submitted a proposal to take apart the plane and take it back to the United States," and added, "the Chinese have agreed to that."

A senior U.S. official close to the matter said China was trying to create a "self-fulfilling prophecy" by issuing the statement, hoping the United States would feel compelled to agree.

He said China initially was unwilling to release the aircraft but now wants to see it returned as Congress prepares to take up the question of China's trading status with the United States.

The EP-3 signals intelligence aircraft has been on Hainan Island since April 1, where it was forced to make an emergency landing after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet. The smaller plane was sliced in half and was lost at sea with its pilot. The American plane landed, and its crew of 24 was detained by China for 11 days.

State Department officials in Washington say there has been no final decision.

In Washington, one senior State Department official told United Press International, "We are discussing a number of ideas, but there is no definitive plan at this point. We will continue working with the Chinese in terms of the technical details of returning the plane."

However, this official said that returning the plane in parts "could be a possibility" but stressed "there has been no final decision."

Washington had earlier expressed a hope that the aircraft could be repaired and flown home on its own, but China has refused to allow that to happen, hinting such a move would be embarrassing for Beijing.

(Kirk Troy in Beijing and Eli Lake in Washington contributed to this report.)

Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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The discussions are ongoing, he said at a news conference. Rumsfeld said the United States has offered China two possibilities -- for the plane to be repaired and flown back under its own power, the Pentagon's preferred option, or for its wings to be removed and the...
Pentagon:,Deal,Yet,Plane's,Return
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2001-00-24
Thursday, 24 May 2001 12:00 AM
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