The Pentagon said on Friday it does not plan to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon floating 60,000 feet above the US because "any potential debris field would be significant" and could cause "civilian injuries or deaths or significant property damage”, NBC News reported.
"We will continue to monitor and review options," Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters early Friday afternoon, according to the report.
"The balloon continues to move eastward and is currently over the center of the continental United States," Ryder said, adding that "we currently assess the balloon does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground at this time."
Asked if he was concerned some Americans might try to “interfere” with the balloon — presumably, by intercepting it or trying to shoot it down — Ryder noted the balloon is flying at a height of approximately 60,000 feet, which is about 11 miles above the ground.
It’s “well above the range of civilian air traffic,” Ryder said.
The high-altitude balloon was first spotted over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday. It flew over the Aleutian Islands, through Canada, and into Montana. On Thursday, US officials confirmed the military has been monitoring the balloon and military and defense leaders have discussed shooting it out of the sky.
The Chinese government acknowledged the craft "is from China."
“It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website quoted by NBC News.
The statement claimed the balloon “deviated far from its planned course” because of strong winds and a lack of steering ability.
Meanwhile on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a visit to China in the wake of the discovery of the surveillance balloon.
Speaking to reporters after the postponement, Blinken said China’s action was “a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law...an irresponsible act."
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said, according to Reuters, that President Joe Biden was briefed on the balloon flight and there was an administration "consensus that it was not appropriate to travel to the People's Republic of China at this time."
The administration was aware of China's statement of regret "but the presence of this balloon in our airspace, it is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law. It is unacceptable this occurred," she told a regular briefing.
(Israel National News' North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Israel National News articles, however, is Israeli time.)