White House on China balloon saga: Blinken to reschedule trip when time is right

WASHINGTON, Feb 6 (Reuters) - The White House on Monday said a suspected Chinese spy balloon's flight over the United States has done nothing to improve already tense relations with Beijing and that top diplomat Antony Blinken will seek to reschedule a postponed trip when the time is right.

"Nobody wants to see conflict here," White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken postponed a planned Feb.5-6 visit to China because of the balloon's flight into U.S. airspace last week. It was shot down by a U.S. fighter jet off the Atlantic Coast on Saturday.

U.S. officials will decide when Blinken should seek to reschedule the trip, Kirby said.

Kirby dismissed China's contention that the balloon was for meteorological purposes, saying "it strains credulity ... that this was some kind of weather balloon that was floating on the winds."

He said the United States had the opportunity to study the balloon while it was aloft and that officials hope to glean intelligence on its operations by retrieving as many components as possible in the Atlantic Ocean. Such information is likely to be valuable, he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Monday it is imposing a temporary security zone in the waters off Surfside Beach, South Carolina in the area where the balloon came down.

Senior U.S. officials have offered to brief individuals from the previous administration of Donald Trump on the details of what the White House says was three China balloons overflights when Trump was president. U.S. officials say the overflights came to light after Trump left office in January 2021 and was succeeded by President Joe Biden.

Reporting by Steve Holland, Susan Heavey and Trevor Hunnicutt; editing by Grant McCool

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