WASHINGTON – The Pentagon delayed announcing a decision Wednesday on whether to buy Army berets from China as a standoff continued over a downed U.S. Navy surveillance plane and its crew.
Military officials canceled a news briefing that had been scheduled to release the results of a review of the awarding of contracts for the berets to companies in other countries, including China.
Officials declined to explain the cancellation. One Pentagon official who asked not to be named said only that the review had "been reopened" in light of this week's developments.
The U.S. plane, with 24 crew members, made an emergency landing on a Chinese island earlier this week after a collision with a Chinese fighter jet. The United States says the plane and crew must be returned. China wants an apology; the White House has expressed regrets for the loss of a Chinese pilot, but says an apology is unnecessary.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki decided last year that all soldiers, except paratroopers and Special Forces soldiers, would wear black berets, beginning June 14, the Army's birthday.
With that deadline set for acquiring 2.6 million berets, the Defense Logistics Agency said it had to use foreign manufacturers along with American suppliers. When word got out that China was among those suppliers, it created a problem on Capitol Hill and the review was launched.
For years, only members of elite Ranger commando units have had the right to wear black berets, and they objected that widespread use of the headgear would cheapen something they had won through special training.
Shinseki later accepted a Ranger offer to switch from black to tan berets — enabling them to keep an exclusive color.