Bush Says Continuing Standoff Could Damage U.S.-China Relations

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - President Bush said Monday that diplomatic and behind-the-scenes efforts to free 24 American military personnel that remain incarcerated in China, as a result of an April 1 mid-air collision, are continuing. The president added that he hoped the matter could be resolved quickly; otherwise, relations between the two countries could be damaged, he said.

"Every day that goes by increases the potential that our relations with China could be damaged and our hope is that this matter gets resolved quickly," President Bush said. "We're working behind the scenes, we've got every diplomatic channel open, we are in discussions with the Chinese.

"It's now time for our troops to come home, so that our relationship does not become damaged," he said.

The president also said he had spoken to U.S. Army Brigadier General Neal Sealock, who had just "had a good visit with all 24 crew members."

"His report is that their spirits are very high, that they're doing well, and that's good news," President Bush said. "Secondly, all of us around this table understand diplomacy takes time, but there is a point...at which our relations with China could become damaged."

Bush spoke from the White House just before a Cabinet meeting about his budget, which he is sending to Congress.

Meanwhile, in China, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Prueher told reporters in Beijing, "We are making progress and negotiating and working on the release of the air crew." He did not elaborate.

U.S. officials visited the crew on Monday evening, China time, for the fourth time. "We are glad to report they are in excellent health, their spirits are extremely high and we had a good conversation for about 40 minutes as a group," General Sealock told reporters on Hainan.

He said the crew was receiving e-mails, toiletries and other provisions and was living in facilities similar to officers' quarters.

"That includes air conditioning. It is very clean. It is a hotel environment," he said.

China continues to demand that the United States apologize for the incident, something Washington refuses to do.