Instead, Powell maintained the Bush administration had used the word "sorry" in a letter of regret to Beijing only in reference to the apparent death of the Chinese pilot, and for the fact the U.S. Navy EP-3 entered Chinese airspace without prior permission.
"There was nothing to apologize for," Powell said, referring to Beijing's demands for a formal apology before releasing the 24 U.S. servicemen and women being detained at a Chinese military facility on Hainan Island.
"To apologize would have suggested we had done something wrong, that we were accepting responsibility, that we had done something wrong," Powell added. "And we did not do anything wrong.
"Therefore, it was not possible to apologize."
Powell's remarks came after the Chinese regime announced it would release the U.S. crew after almost two weeks in detention. The announcement followed news reports from China that the U.S. had apologized.
Speaking at a news conference in Paris, Powell added he did not believe the standoff between the Bush administration and Beijing had permanently damaged U.S.-Chinese relations.
"I think we stopped this process ... before it became more serious," he said. "I think we'll just have to see how things settle out.
"I don't see anything that isn't recoverable."
Powell said that President Bush had sent a letter expressing sorrow to the wife of Chinese fighter pilot Wang Wei, who is believed dead. Sorrow about the pilot's apparent death was also mentioned in the U.S. letter to Beijing, he said.
"The death of anyone diminishes us all in some way," Powell said. "And so we were expressing the fact we were sorry, very sorry, regretful for the loss of his life."
Powell said the United States had also specifically apologized for the fact the EP-3 had crossed into Chinese airspace without permission when it made its emergency landing.
But, he added, the pilot had little choice, "and niceties ... were not available to him at the moment."
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