Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
The Briefing Room
1:53 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Okay. As promised, we have a special guest star today. We'll start with a BACKGROUND briefing by [name deleted], whom you all know. [Name deleted] will give a brief opening statement and then take questions. He is on a tight schedule, as are you, so he won't stay long. But then I -- you'll be all happy to know that I will be back to answer any other questions that you might have. So, here's [name deleted].
Q: Does this mean can we get the first five minutes --
MS. MYERS: The first five minutes will be on sound and camera.
Q: What about [Name deleted]?
MS. MYERS: No.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is background.
Q: Sure you don't want to go on camera?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Positive. Absolutely positive.
Q: We had to offer.
Q: You know, General Cedras goes on camera.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's the problem. (Laughter.)
Let me just open with a few comments about Haiti and then take some questions.
As you all know, the President has been deeply committed from the beginning of his administration to advancing a process for the return of democracy and President Aristide to Haiti. That is, in his judgment, very much in America's interest. We have pursued that process over the past seven or eight months, first through a policy of intensifying sanctions through the U. N. and through the organization of American States and then later through, as you know, the Governors Island Agreement of July 3rd, which produced a negotiated track by which democracy would be returned to Haiti.
There have been a number of steps that have taken place on that - - along that road since July 3rd. There is a new government in Haiti led by Prime Minister Malval. Just last week, President Aristide proclaimed the amnesty for political crimes called for under the Governors Island Agreement.
Part of the Governors Island Agreement involved an invitation agreed to by all of the parties to the international community to send a mission to Haiti to train police and military. This was intended, as has always been intended, to be a technical assistance mission. There, at the invitation of all of the parties, as the police was reconstituted and the military moved away from a political to other roles, the parties invited the international community to help in that training process.
Our part of that has been the willingness to send about 600 military trainers and SeaBees to provide that kind of training. Some of it is just simply military training, some of it is training the military in civic action programs, as our SeaBees do -- building of clinics and other kinds of programs.
That mission depends upon its very existence, upon the willing cooperation of the Haitian authorities, including the Haitian military. It was clear yesterday that that was not present, that the disturbance that we saw, the obstruction to the entry of our ship, all indicated that the kind of cooperative atmosphere on which this operation depends is not, at this point, present -- at least with elements of Haiti. We consider that inability yesterday to maintain an orderly situation, to be a serious obstruction of the Governors Island Process that was agreed to in July.
We intend to insist that that process be completed. And to that end, we will pursue in the United States Security Council the reimposition of sanctions that had been in place prior to the beginning of the implementation of the Governors Island Agreement. Those sanctions, in our judgment, should remain in place until we are convinced that the agreement is being implemented in good faith and we can see that visibly and demonstrably.
Let me just finish a few more things and then -- we will not proceed with the mission -- we will proceed with the mission, to put it affirmatively, when we are assured that the environment exists in Haiti for that kind of a cooperative mission to proceed.
DOD will have something to say later about Harlan County, but it doesn't make a lot of sense for them to be waiting there until this gets resolved.
Q: Does that mean a decision has been made on the reimposition of sanctions and the decision has been made not to go in there now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are not going to go forward with a mission until the precondition of that is manifestly present. And the precondition is that there be the willing cooperation of the Haitian military. It's hard to train an institution in an adversarial context.
Q: Dee Dee knows that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: (Laughter.) She never thought she could train you, though, Ruth.
Q: How about the sanctions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And the sanctions --there will be another meeting this afternoon in the U.N. It is our understanding that Dante Caputo who, as you know, is both the U.N. and the OAS negotiator, will come back to the U.N. this afternoon and recommend that the sanctions be reimposed. And we will support that.
Q: Did he get to see the leaders, and was he turned down on the request?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe that he is not satisfied at this point that the agreement is being complied with in good faith.
Q: Did the administration count -- it would appear the administration did not expect, and perhaps no one else did as well, the kind of resistance that you've encountered to the landing of these forces. Had the administration thought through, if it did think about this, in advance, what it would do if such a thing happened? And now that it has happened, has the administration now thought through what it would do if the process seemed to improve and they were permitted to land in what appeared to be a cooperative atmosphere, and trouble arose then?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, there have been -- all along this road on Haiti there have been, at each step of the way there have been roadblocks. We will not send that mission forward in an environment that is not cooperative and the President will insist that if they go forward it be under conditions in which we are assured of their safety.
Q: Out of all respect, I don't think you quite answered either of the questions. One is, did you think about what you would do if something like this happened? And whether or not you did, have you thought through what you would do if something like this happens again?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, and yes.
Q: What has become of the Harlan County? Is that going to weigh anchor, or is it going to sit there in the harbor?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me refer you over to DOD to talk about that.
Q: It is a little hard to imagine that the administration said, "By God, if they get in our way, we'll just sit in that harbor." I mean, am I clear that this is not going according to your contingent plan if there were resistance?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there was always -- it was always anticipated that if there was resistance, or if there was in any way a hostile environment they would not stay there.
Q: What happened though, if they are in, and in this very volatile situation that you have there, that the situation turns hostile again once they have arrived and they're not very well armed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the President -- we will not send them forward in an environment that we consider to be hostile, and we will send them forward only under circumstances under which we are assured of their safety.
Q: Has the Haitian military, in essence, vetoed the return of Aristide? And will this last indefinitely until they say it's okay?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think the Haitian military, at this point has taken upon itself the onus of the reimposition of economic sanctions by the international community. And those sanctions, in our judgment, should remain in effect until it is clear that this process is moving forward.
Q: In other words, the people of Haiti continue to suffer, Aristide stays here as long as the Haitian military is willing to put them through that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Aristide's -- there is a process agreed to in the Governors Island Agreement. The sanction for failure to comply with that process is the reimposition of sanctions.
Q: Why did he go back on his word?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Excuse me?
Q: Why did Cedras go back on his word and what made them all change their minds now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would judge them by actions and not by motivations.
Q: Considering the difficulty shown this country relying on a multinational force to protect U.S. soldiers, as in Somalia, why should we not see that the situation in Haiti as relying on the very people being removed from power to protect U.S. soldiers?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This, as I said earlier, is not, has never been a peacekeeping, peacemaking mission. It is a technical assistance mission which depends upon an environment in which that can go forward. In the absence of that environment, that part of the operation can't go forward.
Q: Security still rests with the Haitian military. The security still rests with the very people being removed from power once the American troops get in there.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are -- under the Governors Island Agreement, as you know, there are steps to -- that would envision the change of the military leadership of Haiti.
Q: So could you tell us about your perception of what is going on in Somalia?
Q: Can we stay on Haiti?
Q: Let me just follow up on Haiti for a second. You said that it doesn't make any sense to keep the Harlan County off the shore. Can we take it to mean it's already received orders to leave?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I refer over to DOD on that.
Q: There's another ship due to arrive tomorrow, which raises the question, what are you going to do about those --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The conditions under which one can provide a technical assistance and support for the military in Haiti do not exist now.
Q: You don't think they can be established overnight, then, do you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would not expect it, no.
Q: Has the whole Governors Island --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't expect that ship to go forward.
Q: Has the whole Governors Island Agreement unraveled, now, the timetable, because of what happened yesterday?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let's see what happens. We will go back to the U.N., we will make it very clear -- I think it's very clear here where the responsibility lies. There clearly are elements in Haiti that do want to reconstitute its society, very large elements, not only those people who supported Aristide, but elements in the business community and elsewhere, elements that were impinged by the imposition of sanctions, and they will have to make a judgment about their own future.
Q: Beside the imposition of sanctions, are there any diplomatic talks or discussions ongoing about trying to resolve this impasse?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Caputo is in Haiti.
Q: He's coming back, isn't he?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I don't think I said that. He's reporting --
Q: Yes, you did.
Q: going back to the U.N.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, I didn't mean that literally. I meant telephonically, telexy, FAX. He is communicating with the U.N. this afternoon, it is my understanding. Not in his physical presence, but in his words. I'm sorry.
Q: As far as conversations in Haiti, is Mr. Caputo still conducting them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Mr. Caputo is still engaged in discussions, but I think we're going to need more than just, at this point, words. We're going to need to see visibly a --we're going to need to see, visibly and demonstrably on the ground, that there is a control to the situation.
Q: How can you do that? Can you give us a sense of how you could do that?
Q: Does that mean that Cedras either has to relinquish his authority or be removed from power to create the kind of environment that you say would be favorable?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Governors Island Agreement - - the next step in the Governors Island Agreement contemplates the division of the military and the police. Presumably, then, the reappointment of the new head of the police and the appointment of the new head of the military. Those steps are intended under Governors Island to take place very soon.
Q: That would be required to create the kind of environment that you say would be necessary before those troops would go into Haiti?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It depends upon there being a situation in which such a mission, which is a technical assistance mission, can succeed.
Q: Cedras has to be gone.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Cedras is to go under the agreement. Cedras is to resign under the agreement.
Q: Anything new, any new developments on Somalia that would move the situation on way or another?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not that I'm aware of. But I'm not here to brief on Somalia --
Q: Was there a security meeting?
Q: request the meetings -- the decisions that were taken at a meeting with the President?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These obviously reflect the discussions with the President.
Q: Did the President meet with all those top people today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We met with the President, and there was also a meeting among other advisors to the President.
Q: And was Somalia also discussed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was discussed in the meeting with the President.
Q: Who was in the meeting with the President?
Q: Sandy? Sandy? Sandy Berger -- I want to ask a question, please -- (Laughter and applause.)
Q: Have you considered the possibility of sending in Marines with the people assigned as missionaries to Haiti? Have you considered - - there is a school of thought in town that says if we have any show of force whatever, these thugs would just back off.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is not something that is constitutional within the Haitian constitution. It is not something that Aristide has ever wanted to happen.
For Aristide to return on the backs of the United States, or any other army, is to undermine his legitimacy as President. It is not something that we have discussed.
END2:10 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269097