'Given the Circumstances, the Pentagon Is Happy With Hainan Outcome'

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TIME.com: How is the Pentagon feeling about the outcome of the Hainan standoff?

Mark Thompson: Pretty good, for the most part. If you sit down and look at how the cards were dealt, there was no choice here. Obviously lower down the ranks there may be some grumbling from people saying there should have been a harder line or that the plane should have ditched. But they didn't have a kid on that plane. The top brass is happy they were able to bring the crew home in one piece.

Presumably the April 18 meeting is a challenge for the Pentagon, because they will discuss issues such as the return of the plane and future U.S. surveillance flights off China.

Yes, but China has indicated that it plans to send civilian diplomats to that meeting, and it's not yet clear whether we'll do the same or send military guys. Plainly, the reason we got all wrapped around the axle here was because of miscommunication between China's military and civilian leaders, and we don't want to do anything to complicate matters on that front.

What protocols would the U.S. like to establish for such flights to avoid a recurrence of the collision?

That international boundaries should prevail, as simple as that. There's a harder mood in Washington now, as the U.S. view is confirmed that the EP-3 was struck by the Chinese plane. The Bush administration is not going to back away on this one, and will want to resume surveillance flights as soon as possible after the April 18 meeting.

But from the U.S. point of view, then, the Hainan incident occurred because an unarmed surveillance plane in international waters was molested by a Chinese fighter. Doesn't this bring up the question of force protection for future flights? Would the U.S. consider sending fighter escorts with future surveillance missions?

That's a good question, and there's no good answer to it. Obviously the U.S. doesn't want to put its personnel in danger. But there's also the danger that sending fighter escorts will be read by the Chinese as a signal that the U.S. wants a war. The real question may be whether the Chinese will be stupid enough to challenge these surveillance flights again in the future. The Chinese lost a pilot and we came within inches of losing 24 people. If the Chinese plane had been a little closer, all 24 U.S. personnel might have been killed, and we'd have thought our plane had been shot down, and then who knows where we'd be.