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Friday, 13 April, 2001, 01:26 GMT 02:26 UK
US stands firm on spy flights
crew arrive in Hawaii
The crew are being questioned in Hawaii
President George Bush has said the United States will continue surveillance flights off the coast of China, despite Beijing's demand that they be halted.

Mr Bush was speaking after the crew of the detained US spy plane returned to Hawaii.

The 24 crew members were held in southern China for 12 days after their Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet. They were received in Hawaii with applause and a brass band.

US President George W Bush
Mr Bush emphasised US-China differences

Mr Bush said Beijing's position did not advance US-China relations, and he reiterated the US line that the EP-3 spy plane was in international airspace when the incident occurred.

"Reconnaissance flights are part of a comprehensive national security strategy that helps maintain peace and stability in our world," he said.

China allowed the crew to leave Hainan island on Wednesday after the US expressed sorrow over the loss of the Chinese fighter pilot involved in the incident.

The crew's pilot, Lieutenant Shane Osborn, said they were "definitely glad to be back".

Debriefing

The Navy crew spent 12 hours on Thursday being debriefed in Hawaii, the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet. They face another 14 hours of intensive questioning on Friday.

US officials are trying to determine what caused the crash and how much of the plane's sophisticated surveillance equipment was destroyed before it fell into Chinese hands.

Crowds welcomed the crew home
In order to win the crew's release, President Bush said he was "very sorry" for the loss of the Chinese pilot and for the US plane's landing in China without verbal permission - but he did not accept US responsibility for the collision.

Although the crew is now back in the US, the dispute has not ended yet.

Beijing says that it received an apology - a vindication of Chinese resistance to US pressure - while the US has denied that it apologised for anything.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said: "There is no 'very sorry' linked to the incident. There is no 'very sorry' linked to our reconnaissance flights."

Differences

Mr Bush said China and the US would "no doubt again face difficult issues and fundamental disagreements".

"We disagree on important, basic issues, such as human rights and religious freedom."

Timeline of the dispute
1 April: Collision forces US spy plane to land on China's Hainan island; China blames US
3 April: US diplomat holds first of five meetings with crew
4 April: Chinese President Jiang Zemin personally demands US apology
8 April: US Secretary of State Colin Powell says he is "sorry" for the loss of the Chinese pilot
11 April: China announces crew will be released
12 April: Crew arrives in Hawaii
US and Chinese representatives are set to meet on 18 April to discuss issues related to the incident, including the return of the plane, the cause of the accident and the future of US surveillance missions.

Mr Bush said the US team would "ask the tough questions about China's recent practice of challenging US aircraft operating legally in international airspace".

The crew are due return to their home base in Washington state on Saturday.

After debriefing, the military personnel are entitled to 30 days' convalescent leave.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
President Bush
"I know I speak for all Americans when I say welcome back to the flight crew"
The BBC's David Willis, in Hawaii
"The home-coming proper is on hold until the de-briefing is complete"
Jane's Defence's Paul Beaver
"We don't know how much they were able to destroy on the aircraft"

Key stories:

Analysis

Spy plane row

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