CBSN

Damage Control

010403 U.S. spy EP-3 plane china flag
CBS/AP
As the standoff over 24 detained Americans dragged into its second week, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday a quick resolution was critical to limit damage to U.S.-China relations.

"This incident should be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible," he said on CBS News' Face The Nation. "Let's not keep these 24 young men and women detained in China while the two governments are having a political dispute. Let's get this behind us as quickly as possible."

Vice President Dick Cheney said the spy plane's crew is fine. "In all the reports we have, the crew appears to be in good shape and appear to be well-treated," he told reporters Sunday.

Powell also warned that sooner is better than later.

"Serious damage is now starting to be done to the relationship. Congressional delegations are canceling their trips to China. I'm getting calls from business leaders saying, 'Not sure I'm going to go visit,'" he said.

"There is a risk to the long-term relationship with China with each day that it goes unresolved," agreed Cheney. "It's not in our interest to have that happen nor is it in the interest of China to have that happen."

Powell said the administration continues to work to free the crew of the spy plane. "We are in intense negotiations with Chinese officials in Beijing."

On Face, Powell ruled out an apology.

"I have seen no evidence whatsoever, nor have I heard of any evidence, that suggests that our plane took any action which precipitated this accident, this incident," he said, "which is why it is impossible for to us say we're responsible, and thereby it is not proper for us to extend an apology. We have nothing to apologize for at this point."

Later in the broadcast, he reiterated his opposition to an apology at least until all the facts about the incident are known.

"When you apologize, you're suggesting you did something wrong. You're accepting responsibility for something that you don't believe you have responsibility for," he said, adding that the U.S. does not agree with China's version of what happened. "Until we get to the truth, it would be very inappropriate for us to accept responsibility and to offer an apology."

Powell admitted that the "road map" for getting the plane's crew released is not a straight line.

"There are some zigs and zags on it, and there are still some exchanges of views that would suggest we're at loggerheads....little barriers you have to get around," he told Thomas Friedman of The New York Times during the program. "But I am confident we'll be able to get around these barriers.

"How quickly, I don't know. I would have preferred to have this solved a week ago, but for reasons that are within the Chinese government's framework to understand, it didn't happen."

The Weekly Standard, a pro-Republican journal in Washington, has referred to Pesident Bush's handling of the situation as a "national humiliation," an assessment with which Powell does not agree.

"That is very unfortunate, and it is also absurd. The president has been leading since Day One," he said. "Every step of the way for the last seven days, President Bush and the rest, supported by the national security team, has acted in a responsible way that recognizes that there is a large relationship here that we have to worry about, but we also have 24 young Americans we have to get out as soon as possible. He has been sensitive to the families. He has been sensitive to the strategic issues that we have on the table.

"And he has been sensitive, frankly, to the feelings of the Chinese, and I don't find anything wrong with this."

Powell all but ruled out military action. "I don't know where military action even enters this equation at this point."

But he also said the U.S. won't be stopping its surveillance flights over China, as the Chinese government has demanded.

"Our reconnaissance flights have been going on for decades. They go on over international waters in international air space. They threaten no one," he said.

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