US, China Working on Deal to Send Spy Plane Home
Talks between US technicians and their Chinese counterparts on the US spy plane stranded in southern China have made progress and they are working on a deal for the plane's return, a Western diplomat said Sunday.
"The talks went well and now both sides are working on the wording of a document to allow the plane's return," a Western diplomat with knowledge of the talks told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The two sides did not meet on Sunday, the diplomat in Beijing added.
A spokesman at the US embassy said that "progress was made in earlier talks, but today (Sunday) there is nothing new to add."
The four-member US team arrived in Beijing Thursday to work on the technical details of airlifting the EP-3 Aries surveillance aircraft from the southern Hainan Island onboard a giant Antonov 124 cargo plane.
The damaged aircraft has been sitting on the tarmac at the island's Linghsui air base since making an emergency landing there on April 1 following a mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter jet.
China refused US requests for the plane to be repaired and flown out of China, but agreed in principle to allow the wings of the EP-3 to be taken off so that the plane could fit inside the Antonov.
Washington is adamant the plane will be used again, and the US embassy spokesman said the aim of this weekend's talks was to "safely and efficiently recover the EP-3 airplane in a re-usable condition."
The April 1 collision led to the Chinese fighter jet crashing into the sea causing the death of its pilot and presenting the administration of new US President George W. Bush with its first foreign policy crisis.
The 24-member crew of the US plane were held for 11 days and released only after the United States said it was "very sorry" for the loss of the Chinese pilot and for landing without permission.
Both sides blamed each other for the collision, which happened in international airspace over the South China Sea, and the incident led to a sharp deterioration in Sino-US relations.
In the aftermath of the collision, China repeatedly warned the United States to end all its surveillance flights off the Chinese coast.
However the United States said it resumed reconnaissance flights over China's northern coast in early May, while the Washington Times reported this week that a US spy plane flew along the southern coast several days ago for the first time since the collision – BEIJING (AFP)
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