Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
The Briefing Room
5:30 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: I have no further details on travel, so don't hold your breath.
This is a BACKGROUND briefing. You may identify them both as senior White House officials. And here they go.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. President Clinton and President Aristide just had a very good meeting for over an hour in the Oval Office.
President Clinton very strongly affirmed to President Aristide the deep national and personal commitment to help achieve the restoration of democracy to Haiti and the return of President Aristide. He indicated to President Aristide that the United States would lend the full support of our good offices to the effort underway by Minister Caputo to the U.N. and the OAS.
As you may know, a few days ago Secretary Christopher named Ambassador Pezzullo as his special representative for Haiti. Working with Minister Caputo, Ambassador Pezzullo will be going down to Haiti very soon and will deliver a very strong message to the de facto government and the military leaders that there is a moment of opportunity here for a negotiated and peaceful solution, and we hope that all the parties will seize that moment.
For his part, President Aristide spoke very eloquently about the aspirations and dashed hopes of his people, about the inequities of income, about the devastated environment, and welcomed very much the support that President Clinton put forward
today for the restoration of democracy and President Aristide to Haiti.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I thought it was an excellent meeting in the sense that both presidents saw this as a partnership, that we're beginning a process here of pushing this negotiation much more seriously, much more vigorously within the context of a U.N.-OAS international approach; and we want to be supportive of that, and that's the understanding.
This is a negotiated process. It is important to deal with issues as they arise. But the ultimate objective is very clear, and I think that it'll be clear to the people in Haiti, those who are oppressed, and those who are governing now, that this is the time, as my colleague said, this is a window of opportunity for them to find ways to accommodate in a thoughtful way, in a peaceful way, to a change that is coming.
Q: Did the President talk President Aristide out of his assertion that a date-certain should be set for the restoration of democracy? He seemed to make that point quite clearly in the op-ed piece today, and, yet, he said he was totally satisfied with the assertions that he heard from Mr. Clinton which did not include a date-certain.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think President Aristide was satisfied by the depth and intensity of the President's commitment to this objective. President Clinton indicated to President Aristide that he did not think it was advisable for the United States to be setting any particular date-certain. This is a U.N.-OAS-led negotiation, the timing of a new government in Haiti and President Aristide's return will be set by that negotiation. My impression was that President Aristide seemed reassured by that.
Q: Both of you gentlemen indicated that the message that would be delivered to the military government now ruling Haiti is a strong message that this is a window of opportunity for a peaceful solution. Window of opportunity or what? I mean, are you going to lay down some alternatives as to what might happen? I mean, just to walk in there and say this is a window of opportunity -- I mean, they haven't been listening so far. What kind of steps are you willing -- is the U.S. willing to take to enforce that kind of strong message that the Ambassador is going to deliver?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we ought to let the negotiations, which are now going to take place on a much more aggressive and urgent basis, run their course over the next several weeks before we determine what further steps may be required. But I think the President did indicate that he's
prepared to consider other steps, further sanctions if, in fact, the negotiations do not succeed.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that's important. We are in a negotiating mode, and we're not threatening as much as we're offering up an opportunity. I think that opportunity is a clear one. We can transition into a -- as Aristide said several times, into a new government which holds out the hand of comity to everybody so everybody can be in the tent with no question of a violent approach toward those who had been involved in the coup.
He talked about justice, and I think what we're offering up here is an opportunity to move from where we are to the restoration of democracy and Aristide to the benefit of all of the actors, so that they all come out of this winners. This should be a win-win situation for them, and that is the mode of the approach we're going to take.
Q: Does that include an offer of amnesty?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me say that I was very impressed by President Aristide's spirit of nonviolence, of reconciliation. Those issues obviously will be the subject of negotiations. But at one point, President Aristide said that this country is like a broken glass, and it is his job to help put the pieces back together. That was the spirit with which he spoke. It was a spirit of rebuilding, not of revenge, of reconciliation.
Let me just add one other point here that I may have slighted in my opening remarks. And that is that President Clinton also indicated to President Aristide that we have initiated with the discussions with the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank the initiation of a multiyear fund for the development and democracy of Haiti. This is a fund that would be at least $1 billion over five years in which the United States would participate, a fund that would --
Q: To what extent? What's the amount the United States would participate?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This will be the subject of discussions as we talk to the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. But what is desperately needed in Haiti is, first, the restoration of democracy and then the building of an economic life in what is one of the poorest countries in the world, and I think the poorest country in this hemisphere.
Q: What guarantee do you have that the military are not going to drag their feet, as they have been doing for months now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That remains to be seen. I think that's an unlikely possibility.
Q: Why do you think it's --
Q: Have they shown any flexibility at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First of all, you've got a statement by the President of the United States, adding urgency to the resolution of what is a de facto situation.
Q: But what's the movement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The movement will be a heightened negotiation, both by us and by the U.N.-OAS negotiator. That negotiation will get into the details of how you get from here to what I said before -- the restitution of a democratic order with Aristide as president.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me add one note here, which is there has been, as you know, as a result of this U.N.- OAS negotiation already the agreement to the introduction into Haiti of outside human rights monitors -- there are, I think, 77 there now -- that number will expand so that there has been some expression of some willingness to have an international engagement in solving the problem in Haiti.
Q: Was there any specific discussion about the fate of Cedras and the military leaders between the two?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a general discussion of the question of amnesty, the question of what would happen to the coup leaders. I think President Aristide emphasized that he sought no vengeance. I think from his perspective, he would like to see them no longer leading the military, but did not seek to have them in any way imprisoned or otherwise --
Q: You said he'd like to see them not leading the military. How strong were his words on that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This will be the subject of the negotiations. He made that -- that was his view as he expressed it.
Q: There was no date-certain, but how much time are you willing to give this effort? Are we talking weeks, months?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President not only today, but in discussions leading up to today, has expressed his impatience with the pace in which this is proceeding, and his determination that the United States participate in a much more vigorous way in trying to move this forward, which is why Secretary Christopher asked Ambassador Pezzullo to leave the comfort of his job to go engage in this enterprise.
Q: Will the Ambassador be going down with Mr. Caputo on Friday? And will this be a joint U.S.-U.N.-OAS initiative?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we will not be working as a team. Mr. Caputo is the negotiator for the OAS and the U.N. The Ambassador will be representing this government in forcing the pace of the process. The total process will be one that he has to put in place and negotiate with the parties there.
So we will work not as a team in the sense that we go together, but as a team in coordinating our actions and ensuring that the steps we take have the same effect on the parties involved.
Q: About the date-certain --
Q: When would he be going?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Probably later this week.
Q: Is the United States prepared to offer the "graceful exit" to General Cedras from Haiti?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as I think we've already said, the issue becomes the future of these gentlemen who are in the command of the military, and that's going to have to be part of the negotiation. One of the things that is necessary -- and President Aristide mentioned this on several occasions -- is that we have to look at the professionalization not only of the military, but of the police force in terms of the role they play in that society -- to maintain order, to preserve human rights, to do something at least the military and the civic action area, in terms of working on roads or other projects of that sort, that process is going to be an important process for the stability of that country over the long term.
There also has to be work on the judiciary, so that you have a rule of law and you have some means of adjudicating issues. This will be all part of the structure that will start to be put in place and, again, I think will give the people in the military and the police and the judiciary a sense that this will go forward and help those interested in remaining in those forces -- not necessarily the leaders -- and have a career in those forces some security.
Q: Are you saying these are the steps which have to be put in place before President Aristide can return?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They will begin -- no, no, it will take -- these will take time. These will begin, they will be in motion -- the process will be a positive one in terms of rethinking the mission of the military, creating a police force which is part of their constitution which never served well, and beginning to put a judiciary in place that functions well.
Q: Is that the secure environment that the administration has been talking about?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Very much a part of it. Very much a part of it.
Q: What's the incentive for the coup leaders to do any of this? You mean, that they might get amnesty -- that decides that? That doesn't sound like much incentive.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's clear to me -- it's not the right thing to do. It's clear to me that there comes a point in time when messages come across loud and clear, that the current status -- the status quo is not going to hold. That it -- because of whatever reasons -- in this case, the pressure from the United States, the interest by the international community, to do something about Haiti.
We've got to take advantage of that momentum, and probably the concerns on the part of the people involved -- about their futures -- and merge those two so that we have a resolution of the current impasse. And I think that is the subject of the negotiation. This is exactly where we're going to be putting the major focus.
Q: Is that the security that you've talked about?
Q: I would like to ask you something. Is there a timetable? Because since Mr. Caputo himself did set three months, and I see that going to be furthermore, but could President Clinton and Mr. Aristide, the President, the legitimate President, set a timetable?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We discussed that just a moment ago. The issue of a timetable was discussed at the meeting, and it was the agreement of both parties that this wouldn't serve the negotiations. The pace will be vigorous; no question about that.
The original statement by Ambassador Caputo as to the three months did not talk -- that was not the end of the road; that was the period of negotiations, not the restitution of democratic order. We will be vigorously pursuing this. We all agree that the United States can't set deadlines for an international community's negotiation. What we will be doing is working handin -glove with that, and ensuring that it moves ahead quickly.
Q: You mentioned the concern of the people about their future, meaning the coup leaders, I would imagine you're talking about. I mean, is there any indication from them that they are willing now -- is there any flexibility on their part? Are they willing now to sit down and talk? Is that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to get into those kinds of issues. That is the nature of the discussions we're going to have, and I would -- I don't think we serve any purpose by getting into that type of detail. We --
Q: The only reason I asked the question is that you raised it yourself. You said there was an opportunity because of the concern of the people about their future.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm speaking about a realization that the time has come and the meeting today will make that abundantly clear where the status quo won't hold in Haiti. And that should give the signal to those in power that we have to move forward in this. And their security and their future --
Q: You don't say why. You've had 17 months of urgent messages that have been sent to the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I came aboard a day and a half ago, and --
Q: I'm not talking to you, personally. There have been 17 months worth of urgent, tough messages that have been sent to the Haitian government and all of them have been spurned. What we don't understand here, what we keep trying to get you to say -- one or the other of you -- is what it is that has changed that you suddenly think that the coup leaders are now going to suddenly start to listen to you where they haven't before?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The message that comes forth from this meeting is that if there is not a resolution that comes from this accelerated negotiation, that the coup leaders, that the de facto regime faces increasing isolation in the international community, and we would -- our patience is not unlimited. And the President made clear that we would look at other measures.
Q: Such as?
Q: Other measures like military action?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think -- at this point we're going to pursue the negotiations to the fullest extent.
Q: For how long? You said several weeks before. For how long?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think what the President said I think is absolutely correct. It's not the United States to set a date; it is a negotiation that we will pursue --
Q: What does several weeks mean then? You said you would let the negotiations run their course over the next several weeks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think what President Clinton was clearly saying today is that we expect the success of these negotiations as soon as possible.
Q: Why does the President not step up sanctions now? President Aristide and others have talked about cracking down on visas or posing blockades or freezing further assets.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These are all measures that we will look at and are looking at. There is a negotiation that has begun only in the last several weeks by Minister Caputo, now with the full weight of the United States behind it. And we will pursue that vigorously.
Q: Excuse me, can I just follow up on that, and I have a question about Guantanamo, which you haven't gotten to. Would the United States -- you've said it's not for the United States to set a deadline -- would the administration be supportive of a U.N. or a OAS-imposed deadline for the return of Aristide?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If a deadline -- if some sort of a timetable emerged from the negotiations, certainly that would be something --
Q: And on Guantanamo, can you tell us who is being sent down there, when, what they're going to look at, and fundamentally the -- George has been telling us for four or five weeks now that the situation is under review. Why has this not been done earlier if it's a matter of concern to the President?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A member of the NSC staff, the Director of our refugee program, is going down tomorrow to look at the situation. The President indicated that we would be consulting with the Attorney General and make some recommendations to the President very soon.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 5:54 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269094