U.S. Expresses Regret Over 'Loss of Life' of Chinese Pilot

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The United States expressed regret Wednesday over the death of the Chinese pilot of the F-8 aircraft that collided with a U.S. surveillance plane over the weekend, but insisted it is now time for the Chinese government to release the 24-person American crew.

"We regret the loss of the life of the Chinese pilot. But now we need to move on. We need to bring this to a resolution, and we're using every avenue available to us to talk to the Chinese side to exchange explanations and move on," said Secretary of State Colin Powell.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday the Chinese ambassador and the deputy secretary of state were planning to meet at the State Department Wednesday afternoon to discuss ways to resolve the standoff.

"As we said yesterday, a United States airplane flying over an international airspace was intercepted by two Chinese planes also flying international airspace. A tragic accident took place," Powell said. "Fortunately, our airplane was able to get down on the ground safely and it's a tribute to the skill of that crew that got the plane down. And we regret that the Chinese plane did not get down safely."

Powell added, "We're in touch with the Chinese. [U.S.] Ambassador [to China Joseph] Prueher met with Chinese officials this morning. We'll have other meetings in the course of the day, and we're exploring avenues by which we can get a dialogue going that will cause both sides to present explanations,"

Fleischer echoed Powell's statement, saying the United States already expressed regret to the Chinese over the pilot's death.

"That was expressed earlier this morning in a conversation ... in Beijing between the American ambassador and the Chinese foreign minister, and the United States is concerned about the missing Chinese serviceman and we've expressed our concern and our regrets about that incident," Fleischer said.

"So, the conversations will continue, and as the president said yesterday, the purpose of this [dialogue] is so our men and women can come home," he said.

"This is a very sensitive time in our conversations with the Chinese. The president's goal is to make certain that our servicemen and women are allowed to come home and be with their families and be reunited and re-enter the shores of the United States," Fleischer said.

Fleischer added, "Because it is a sensitive time, there are moments of diplomacy; there are times in international relations where the less said is the most productive. And that is the president's focus here, being productive and working with the Chinese, and making sure that our servicemen and women return to our shores."

Meanwhile, the 24 Americans who are being held in China are now being called "detainees."

"I think the circumstances, to us, are clear. Secretary Powell used it on the airplane last night. I'm happy to use it again today. We consider these people detained. They are clearly not free to go and we don't have free access to them. I think that, by any definition, means ... detained," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Boucher spokes about the message being sent to the Chinese.

"First of all, don't expect a change in the significance and importance we attach to our crew, and until they're out, we're going to keep raising that. Don't underestimate the significance we attach to full access, and until we get full access, we're going to keep raising that," said Boucher.

Boucher added, "At the same time, I think both sides are saying to each other now that they're looking for a way to resolve the situation. We are saying that we think we need to understand the situation. We need to be able to exchange explanations. And as the fate of the Chinese pilot becomes clear, we're saying, probably more clearly, that we understand and sympathize with the plight of the Chinese family and regret the loss of life of the Chinese pilot that apparently occurred."