How Quickly We Forget

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All manner of instant experts have been beating their chests and deriding the British for their negotiation with the Iranians over their sailors. But back in 2001 the Bush administration did its own sort of negotation.

THE 11-DAY crisis between the the United States and China ended early today after the Chinese accepted a letter with two "very sorrys" and freed the crew of the US spy plane.

At Haikou airport on Hainan island, the 24 Americans, all in uniform, flew out of China at dawn on a commercial jet chartered by the Pentagon. They were due to arrive in Hawaii later today. There they will be extensively debriefed about the collision, which crippled their plane and cost a Chinese fighter pilot his life, before returning to the US. The fate of the plane - which is standing, extensively damaged, at the Chinese airbase where it landed on 1 April - remains in doubt. Talks will begin on 18 April and will also consider regulations on US reconnaissance flights in the region to prevent another such incident in the future.

The diplomatic log jam broke with the delivery of a letter in China the night before, signed by US ambassador James Prueher, that stressed the "sincere regret" felt by President George Bush and his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, for the Chinese pilot's death. It said the US was "very sorry" about the pilot and for "entering China's airspace" and landing "without verbal clearance".