WASHINGTON -- The standoff with China over a downed reconnaissance plane showed signs of easing Thursday. China's ambassador called at the State Department and the White House said "we have reached a diplomatic point where matters are heavily engaged."
A senior U.S. official told The Associated Press the situation had improved over the last few days. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a letter to Beijing, reiterated U.S. concern and regret for the death of a Chinese pilot whose fighter collided with the U.S. craft over the South China Sea, the official said.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the hope was that the United States would soon have access to the American plane that China is holding along with the 24-member crew.
A second senior U.S. official said the administration was encouraged by the level and quality of the diplomatic contacts between the two countries overnight.
This appraisal ran counter to the frustration that U.S. officials had expressed in the days following Sunday's collision.
Powell told reporters, meanwhile, he was up at 2:30 a.m. "with a little situation we have going on with China."
It was also his 64th birthday.
"We are working hard. There are lots of things going on," he said.
China's new ambassador to Washington, Yang Jiechi, held his second meeting in two days with Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage in an effort to resolve the dispute. Neither made a statement afterward.
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