Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
The Briefing Room
2:08 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: As you know, the following briefing will be ON BACKGROUND. You can describe the briefer as a senior administration official. So, Mr. Official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You've heard earlier in the day from General Shalikashvili in terms of the deployments. They're going well. Our forces continue to be deployed around the country, are meeting no resistance, and we're very pleased about that.
Elements of the multinational force are preparing in Puerto Rico for deployment, which will take place in the not-toodistant future.
Q: Like what?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Don't have a specific date.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think less than weeks, but I don't have a specific date.
We, I think, are very pleased that we have seen in this first 24-hour period the kind of permissive entry of an American-led multinational coalition into Haiti, which will enable us to achieve the objectives that we've had all along; which is the stepping down of power of the military leaders, the restoration of President Aristide, and the peaceful transition of power in Haiti. So we're pleased with the way things are going today.
Q: How about any of your deployments to President Aristide? What can you tell us about his obvious dissatisfaction with this, and what impact that has on any sort of success for the political operations?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we've had a number of conversations with President Aristide, obviously over the months, but certainly over the past several days. Today Bill Gray has talked to him; Tony Lake and General Sheehan are going to meet with him tonight. General Sheehan will give him a briefing on the military aspects of the deployment of the multinational force.
What President Aristide said today was -- reaffirmed, certainly, his commitment to the fundamental principles that we share, which is a peaceful transition, nonviolent transition of power. I think it is not hard to understand that he would have some difficulty with elements of the agreement reached over the weekend, particularly the fact that it was reached with a government that he, nor we recognize. And I think he obviously also anticipated going back to Haiti a bit sooner. But I think, as the days go on, as we continue to work together with him, I believe and suspect that he will continue to share our view that this will achieve the fundamental objective here, which is the resignation of the military leadership and the restoration of President Aristide. That's the goal we have in common --
Q: Why hasn't the President talked to him?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Excuse me?
Q: Why hasn't the President --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President did talk to him, I believe after the agreement was signed with -- Sunday.
Q: Sunday night?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. And I suspect that he will talk to him again.
Q: Can you tell us one positive thing President Aristide has told you, meaning the administration, since the signing of this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that we have a common goal, and I don't think that there's any distance between us with respect to what -- the objective here. The objective is for the military leadership to step down, and for him to be restored to power.
In our judgment, waiting 25 more days for that to happen, in exchange for getting a permissive entry of American troops into the country and other of the multinational troops, is not a large price to pay for a very big gain. But I think, as I say, as we continue to talk with him over the coming days, I think he will see that as well.
Q: On Sunday night a senior administration official told a number of reporters that in terms of the departure of Mr. Cedras and Mr. Biamby, that they made it clear to Carter, Powell and Nunn, that they didn't want it spelled out that they viewed it as a humiliation. But this senior official indicated to us that, practically speaking, it was expected that they would leave. Yesterday, another senior government official told a number of us that "it wasn't discussed at all". Which was it? Was the issue of their departure not from power, but from Haiti ever discussed, and what was said about it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I was not in the meeting, so I cannot --
Q: But certainly you were getting briefed, weren't you, or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I cannot tell you what was discussed in the meetings. They did not agree to leave Haiti. They did agree to leave power. And that was our fundamental objective. We believe they should leave Haiti and we will continue to hold to that position.
Q: Are you telling us that the White House never bothered to inquire the President's negotiators asked if these people would be willing to leave Haiti?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the bottom line for us, in these negotiations, was getting them to agree to leave power.
Q: That's not the answer to -- that's not question I'm asking you. I'm asking you: Did the White House every inquire whether or not --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think President Carter and -- knew very well our position with respect to what we believed would be the better outcome here. And in the course of the briefings that he received, he clearly knew, understood that our position was, and that they should leave Haiti.
I think in the context, though, of a very compressed negotiation in which time was short and the stakes were high, I think the fact that he achieved the basic objective, which is the commitment of these leaders to step down on a date-certain, is what we needed to achieve.
Q: I don't mean to monopolize, but I'm just trying to get an answer to this question. Did you ever ask him whether or not he had tried to get any commitment they would leave the country, or was it just something that wasn't on your radar screen at that time? You didn't seem to have an interest in whether he did anything but step down from power?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's my understanding that the subject was discussed between President Carter and --
Q: Carter says he didn't. Carter says he opposed it.
Q: He said never.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the issue was -- my understanding was the issue was discussed. It was discussed in the conversation. It was not an objective that was achieved. But I think from our perspective, the fundamental and most important objective -- what we got on Sunday was a date-certain for their leaving, our ability to permissively put 15,000 multinational forces in the country so that we could enforce that date, and return President Aristide.
Q: It appears that you gave a great deal more than you would have in, say, the Governors Island accords that followed, which is what the President mentioned yesterday. The Governors Island Accords contemplated amnesty and perhaps only for certain civil offenses through the date of their departure a year ago, and said nothing, of course, of the prospect about everything that has happened since. You're guaranteeing amnesty apparently for everything that's happened since the effective date of the Governors Island Accords?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're not guaranteeing amnesty. What the agreement says is that they will, that they will leave when there is an amnesty law passed or October 15th, whichever is first. Now --
Q: Yes, but that's amnesty for everything. That's amnesty for everything.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, that will be for the Haitian parliament to try to work out. And there's always been controversy over the nature of amnesty. If you read Governors Island, Governors Island is about as ambiguous as you can get with respect to what kind of amnesty is contemplated. I mean, it just says the word, "amnesty." It doesn't say political; it doesn't say general.
Q: But I thought we --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me finish. What was critical here was we will encourage all of the parties to work for an amnesty law that is mutually acceptable. If such a law is not achievable by October 15th, the agreement provides for their departure. That, the agreement doesn't say that we will guarantee an amnesty law; that's for the Haitian parliament and for the Haitian people to determine.
Q: Will the military impose their departure on October 15th if the amnesty law has not been passed? The Foreign Minister of Haiti today was indicating that they may not abide by it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that -- with respect to that -- that the agreement is very clear. They will depart power -- leave power -- upon the enactment of an amnesty law, or October 15th, whichever is earlier. That could not be clearer. That was explicit, and that was what the last three house of these negotiations were about; President Clinton's insistence that there be a date-certain in this agreement, so that we could not have a position that -- a departure that depended upon some event over which many people could affect the outcome.
Q: Given their track record on keeping promises, would the military be prepared -- is it part of their orders -- to impose the departure of Cedras and company from power if they are not out by the 15th?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The presence of the multinational force in Haiti, is in, part to guarantee compliance with the agreement.
Q: They would then.
Q: Two questions raised by President Carter this morning. The first is on the lifting of the economic embargo against Haiti. He says that he offered an assurance the president -- the acting President Jonassaint and the Haitian people, endorsed by President Clinton, that it would be lifted even -- it would be lifted before Aristide came back to power, as soon as the U.N. took action. And he assured them, based on the commitment he received from President Clinton, that that would be done before Aristide came back to power.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. No. The -- what the agreement says is that economic language is a little bit unclear, but again, remember the context. I think somebody, Sam Nunn or somebody said the other day, this was not 12 lawyers in a room for 75 days with -- refining language. But the language on this says that the economic sanctions will be eliminated in accordance with 940, that 940 established criteria, including -- before which all of the sanctions cannot be removed, including the departure of the military leadership. So this is a matter that we will discuss with the U.N. There are U.N. sanctions; there are unilateral sanctions; there are OAS sanctions.
I think there is not a sentiment in the United Nations at this point for lifting the U.N. sanctions. We will act -- we will look at these matters in a way that will enable our mission -- enable our soldiers to conduct their mission in terms of what they need and what steps will best effectuate the peaceful transition of power.
Q: So is it the Clinton administration's position that the economic embargo should be lifted as soon as possible, even before Aristide returns?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are a number of economic sanctions. There are at least three different categories of sanctions -- there are U.N. sanctions under 917; there are OAS sanctions; there are unilateral U.S. sanctions.
Certainly, with respect to the U.N. sanctions, which is essentially the oil and commercial embargo, there are certain criteria for their lifting. And the -- as I say, the agreement specifically says that they must be lifted in accordance with U.N. Security Council 940. So we would have to do that in conjunction with the U.N. and in accordance with those criteria, one of which for lifting all the sanctions is --
Q: What about the frozen assets?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- is the resignation of the military leaders. With respect to specific matters and our own sanctions, we will look at those individually in the context of what our troops need to do their mission and what will best accomplish a peaceful transition.
Q: Well, in terms of those assets -- the frozen assets in the United States -- were any assurances given to any of the Haitian leaders about the disposition of the frozen assets?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not as far as I'm aware of.
Q: Is there any reason, any security reason that you can think of that if they comply with the agreement and step down by the 15th that you would not unfreeze their assets?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have not -- first of all, I'm aware of no commitments that were made to them with respect to that. And it's not a matter that we addressed.
Q: To what do you attribute the amazing calm and the acquiescence of the people and the troops? Did Cedras somehow pass the word, you know, that we're going to go along? And do you know of any relationship --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think so far, so far the military leaders have obviously directed their forces to cooperate fully with the introduction of the multinational force. General Shelton had a good meeting yesterday with Cedras about the circumstances under which we would enter. And I suspect that there is -- that presence itself has some dissuasive kind of influence in terms of life in the country.
Q: What is the message --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To Ruth and then --
Q: There were at least two incidents today when Haitian military forces, I understand, fired on or went into the crowd and beat Aristide supporters. What's your reaction to that? And does the U.S. military have a role to play in addressing that kind of violence?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as we've said all along, it is not our role to conduct the basic police function in Haiti; however, we would hope, as quickly as possible, to bring the human rights monitors back into Haiti. We would hope as quickly as possible to bring police monitors into Haiti so that we can have some presence with the FAHD as it conducts its affairs. And, ultimately, we would hope to be in a position to retrain and professionalize that force.
But in the -- the basic answer to your question is that it is not our mission there to undertake the police function. We want to bring in the human rights monitors and the police monitors to try to end those kinds of --
Q: So, then, until then, we stand by, and are you troubled by these developments?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Our forces, if there were a threat to basic civic order in Haiti, our forces would try to address that. But that is different than individual incidents or specific individual police cases.
Q: Are you troubled by this development?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we're going to have a period over the next two or three weeks in which we're going to have to develop the basis on which we work with the FAHD. I hope it can be cooperatively, and I hope it can be in a peaceful fashion, and we will push in that direction.
Q: What specific message are Mr. Gray and Mr. Lake going to take to President Aristide tonight? What can they tell him to persuade him that his reaction to this agreement in which he has a vested personal interest -- I mean, his life may be at stake. How are they going to persuade him that he's wrong, that this is, in fact, a good deal for him?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think there are some reassurances that we can provide, for example, that we have not and will not and do not recognize the Jonassaint government as a U.S. government. But more importantly, I think, is to simply focus on the big picture here and what will happen in 25 days. You know, it's been three years since President Aristide was ousted from power, and it's now 25 days to a point in which he can be returned, that this agreement, aspects of which he might be uncomfortable with, change the basic objective that he has sought for all this time, and that is removal of power of the military leaders and his restoration.
Q: Does it bother the administration that the Aristide letter seems to be particularly lacking in any expression of gratitude to the American people and U.S. military forces for what it's doing on behalf of his country and his own presidency?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I think the statement basically reaffirms that we operate here in a common context; that is, common objectives -- the achievement of Governors Island objectives and U.N. Security Council resolutions.
As I said earlier, I think we can understand why he may have some hesitation about elements of this. But I think as he focuses on what will come from this, what we have achieved here --and that is the introduction of a multinational force in Haiti, permissively, without bloodshed; the agreed departure of the military leaders when we'll be there in large numbers to make sure that happens; and his return -- I think the details that he may have some problems with will be put in the larger perspective of the objectives that we share.
Q: May I follow this question? You didn't really -- with all due respect, sir -- answer Mark's question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I thought I did.
Q: No, you went through the reasons why you thought, in the end, he would come around. President Clinton put his presidency and American military lives on the line to get this guy back into Haiti. And I think Mark's question, if I understood it, was, are you troubled at all by his statement that doesn't even suggest any gratitude there? That's, I think, the question.
Q: I yield to my spokesman. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Would anybody else like to reinterpret that question?
Q: Well, Representative Obey, on that specific point --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I was not trying to --I believe that President Aristide appreciates the sacrifice that American soldiers are making. And I think that when some time has gone by when he is able to resolve in his mind some of the details of this, and put it in the larger perspective, I think that he will be supportive of it.
Q: What about the parliament -- the Haitian parliament and what the U.S. is doing to facilitate the return of any of the Aristide members who might be in the U.S.?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we are prepared to facilitate that. We are prepared to help them return and provide protection to the parliament and it -- as an institution -- as it acts. But, obviously, that depends upon the willingness and actions of the Haitian parliamentarians to reconvene.
Q: To what extent are we responsible for Aristide's safety once he gets back there, and what are you telling him about that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that one of our missions is to provide a protection for the constitutional government; and obviously, the safety of President Aristide and his government will be of concern.
Q: Did the President reach a decision some time before his negotiators went to Port-au-Prince that it would be preferable to have General Cedras remain in power for some time, rather than to step down immediately as he had demanded?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think there was -- in the couple of days before this mission came together there was some thinking about the power vacuum that would be created if they left and we weren't there, so that the notion of a more simultaneous action, I think, became something that we began to think about. It was not our objective when President Carter and General Powell and Senator Nunn went to Port-au-Prince that there would be a deferred departure. They initially came back with -- the military leaders -- with a provision that said that they would leave when an amnesty law was passed. President Clinton said that is not acceptable. That is something that is too easily manipulated. There must be a datecertain. We suggested a date and, ultimately, the 15th was agreed to.
So there was not the intention going in that there would be a full week delay, but I think looking at this in terms of the tradeoff of the four-week delay for the agreement to depart and the permissive entry, I think that it was a clear-cut winner from our perspective.
Q: How do you reconcile --
Q: But if you were concerned about the power vacuum, why then, did they say only last Thursday night that they should step down now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, it's always been our position that they should step down. I mean, we were prepared, I think, to go in quickly had they stepped down, and there were plans for an almost immediate entry under those circumstances. But I think as we continued to think about it, and as the proposition of their leaving with our arriving became an option, that it at least was acceptable to us because it would avoid that kind of power vacuum.
Q: How do you reconcile the President's description of these men as dictators, murderers, human rights abusers --
Q: Thugs -- thanks -- and President Carter's description of them as honorable patriots who were concerned about their people, their army and departing in honor?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think there's no question that we have a different perspective on that issue, from a somewhat different perspective than President Carter.
I think, ultimately, they must be held responsible for - - they must be responsible for what's happened in the country for the last three years. They will be --
Q: They're not being held responsible. Amnesty, money, you know.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They will be out of there. They will step down. That is the critical element here. They will be out of power, Aristide will be in power, and it will be effectuated -- there's a much greater chance it will be effectuated peacefully under what has happened over the last two or three days than ever before.
Q: But you haven't changed your view of these people because Carter has persuaded you that they're really good guys?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I would not say that.
Q: Haiti's ambassador to the U.S. has just come out, after talking with President Aristide, and said that President Aristide is uneasy because the disarming of the FAHD has not begun. Earlier, a representative of the Haitian government here told me that the Pentagon had, in fact, shown him -- President Aristide -- an order that would have required the FAHD to have started to have been disarmed within 24 to 48 hours after the arrival of U.S. troops. Some of the members of the FAHD were to have been screened and put into a police force. We got indications from General Shali earlier that this is on a much slower track. What is the story here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Don't forget here that the scenario under which we are going in is different than the scenario that we anticipated. We anticipated a scenario in which we would be going in forcefully, at some cost -- we would be then, essentially, forcefully removing the leaders from power, and there would be a new commander-in-chief that would be named by President Aristide, who we would begin to work with immediately in the process of working and retraining the FAHD.
We now have, built into this, a transition period of now a little more than three weeks in which we will try to achieve those same objectives. But, obviously, during this three-week period, we will have to do it working in different ways.
Q: One question about President Carter. He said last night that he told the Haitian military leaders that he was ashamed of his country's policies. I'm wondering if you can comment on that and comment on an appearance of somebody who is negotiating on behalf of the U.S. government and is saying things like that about U.S. policy.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the wonderful thing is that, working from differing perspectives, we achieved a terrific result. (Laughter.)
Q: Good spin.
Q: Can you let him finish?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I obviously don't share that view of our policy. I think -- let's go back to basics here. We committed ourselves three years ago to restore democracy to Haiti, and during that period there has been negotiations and every other effort made to try to achieve that.
The sanctions have been imposed as a result of the acts of the Haitian leaders, not as a result of something we wanted to do, or something that we thrilled in doing.
Haiti is -- was a desperately poor country before the economic sanctions were imposed. There were many malnourished and underfed people before the sanctions were imposed. We, during this period have been feeding a million people a day. We have been providing health care for two million people a day. We have been providing, I believe, a humane refugee policy. And, I think under the circumstances, we -- as a policy that has been very admirable in its purpose and I believe is going to be successful in its outcome.
Q: Does it make sense to subcontract U.S. policy from somebody who is so fundamentally in disagreement with you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: President Clinton never subcontracted foreign policy for a second. The fact is that we had always believed in the end game there would be some kind of emissary to the military leaders. This emerged over Thursday and Friday through conversations that President Carter and President Clinton had and President Carter had with President Cedras. And it became the vehicle that we believed would work in terms of the willingness of Cedras and Biamby to meet with them. But let me be clear, from someone who was sitting next to -- through that day on Sunday with the President who was making the final decision here, and it was President Clinton.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:40 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/269383