Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
1:48 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: No real announcements, I think. Obviously, the President will spend some time today preparing for his address tonight. We talked a little bit about what that will seek to accomplish yesterday. The same thing -- explain our interests in Haiti, describe the expanding coalition, which I believe is now at 21 nations, and remind the dictators that they must leave, and they will do it one way or they will do it another, but they must leave.
Q: Will the President be showing the photographs he shared --
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: He will not --
MS. MYERS: No graphics, just the speech.
Q: The Defense Secretary just said a few minutes ago there are signs of turmoil within the Haitian military ranks. And there is a report that Cedras has told CBS he may be willing to leave under certain conditions. Do you have any information about that?
MS. MYERS: I think there have long been reports of conflicts within the military. And that's something that we've talked about from time to time. I think clearly as the end game approaches here there's quite a bit happening on the ground in Haiti and there's a number of conflicting reports about what the military leaders are going to do. I just remind you that Cedras told Dan Rather last night on camera that he was a great patriot, that he loved his country, and he's prepared to die for it, which I found rather ironic. It's the Haitian people who are dying for all his love of country. But I think we'll continue to monitor the situation. And we'll continue to encourage them to leave.
Q: But you don't have any indication of any specific change in Haitian policy or -- any policy among the troika, the head of that government?
MS. MYERS: We continue to look for signs from them, for expression from them that they're willing to leave. But as of yet we've had no firm commitments.
Q: Has anyone from the U.S. been in touch with anyone in that government?
MS. MYERS: I think that Secretary Perry said, we haven't communicated directly with --
Q: Dee Dee, yesterday the President said that he's aware that the American people do not support this invasion or the possibility of an invasion. How can this speech make a difference? What can this speech do?
MS. MYERS: Well, I certainly don't think the speech should be expected to turn around public opinion. I don't think anyone should expect that one speech can do that or even the combination of things that we've tried to do this week and in previous weeks as the President and various members of the administration have laid out what our interests are. But certainly the speech will try. I think the President will lay out what U.S. interests are, what American interests are, and make it clear, as he has consistently, that the dictators must go; that they're perpetrating a reign of terror on the people of Haiti; they've thwarted the will of the people by overturning a democraticallyelected government, and that it is our intention and the intention of the international community to restore that government.
Q: And why is it worth having Americans possibly die for this?
MS. MYERS: Well, that's one of the things that the President is going to talk about tonight. We have a number of interests in the region, including one of the things the President talked about yesterday was the brutality of the dictators and of that regime.
It is the most brutal government in the hemisphere. It's a hemisphere of 35 countries, 33 of which now have democratic governments. That is an important trend and one that this country has long believed is important to protect. As human rights abuses have gone on, not only are people suffering, but it's increased pressure for people to leave the country. We saw a massive outflow of Haitian refugees earlier this year. I think one of the things that helped stem that flow was the commitment by the United States and the international community to restore the democratically-elected government.
Let me just make one more point. One of the interests, of our interests in seeing the democratic government restored is that democratic countries make better neighbors. They don't repress their people. They don't go to war with each other. They trade on the open market. And we have interest in regional stability as well as preventing a massive outflow of refugees.
Q: What are we going to do to get Cedras to leave beyond providing an airplane and other --
MS. MYERS: Well, the time for negotiations has long since passed. As you know, we've tried everything -- negotiation, isolation, condemnation. And none of it has worked to date. They still have a chance to leave. They can still leave and we would certainly welcome a signal from them that they're ready to leave. And if they are, Secretary Christopher said yesterday that's something we'd be willing to talk to them about. But I'm not going to get into the details of what those conversations might include.
Q: there are reports that he's offering them a golden parachute, a pot of money, as much a million dollars according to some --
MS. MYERS: Well, I would be careful of some of the details of those reports, but I will say that the President has done everything he can to bring a peaceful, diplomatic conclusion to this. But he's made it very clear that one way or another, the dictators must leave. Now, the President still hopes that we can bring this to a peaceful conclusion, that the dictators will step down, and if they're willing to step down and leave the country, we'll talk to them about actually the modalities of that departure. But the time to negotiate has long since passed.
Q: When you say "modalities," do you mean money? What do you mean?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to get into the details of what conversations we might have with them, other than to say that we'd be willing to discuss with them how they would leave.
Q: Does the President have a deadline in mind by which the dictators would -- they must leave before the United States would invade?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to get into discussing deadlines, and nobody from the administration has done that, other than to say that time is running out. Their time is very, very short, the patience of the United States and the international community is just about run out.
Q: So does that mean we shouldn't look for the President to set a deadline --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we'll just wait and hear what he has to say tonight.
Q: And are we going to get any of that speech in advance --
MS. MYERS: Excellent question.
Q: Remember, you're on camera and on the record.
MS. MYERS: I think we will -- certainly, our hope to provide a text as soon as we can --
Q: (inaudible) (laughter)
MS. MYERS: -- I'm a merchant of hope.
Q: We're a merchant of doubt.
Q: Yes, but we're not buying. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Yes. That's always the problem in this relationship.
Q: What do you think?
MS. MYERS: I think that we will have something ahead of broadcast, but it's not going to be -- Terry, just for all of you, you should know that your colleague, Mr. Hunt, of the AP requested it by 12:00 noon, I think with the expectation that maybe he'd get it by 8:45 p.m. We'll have it as soon as we can. I do hope that we'll have it ahead of air time.
As the day goes on, the President's going to spend some time working on it, and as the day goes on, if I have a better sense of when we might be able to provide that, I'll let you know. I said tonight that -- try to have it by 8:00 p.m.
Q: Any excerpts early?
MS. MYERS: We'll try. We will try, and we may also try to provide some excerpts in advance of some of the evening broadcasts, but --
Q: Why don't you tell them about 6:00 --
Q: Yesterday, the President was very -- was very heavily focusing on the human rights abuses with the photographs, et cetera. Today it turns out that he will not be showing those photographs. What --
MS. MYERS: It was never the intention to show the photographs during the address.
Q: Well, I'm just interested in how he is going to deal with the human rights aspects of this? How great a proportion of his speech will deal with human rights abuses in explaining to the American people what's been going on --
MS. MYERS: Well, certainly he will talk about that. That's both one of the reasons that the President feels it's important not only to take action but to take action now. In the recent months, as you remember back in July, the dictators kicked out the human rights monitors. We've done three interim reports on human rights, the most recent of which -- Secretary Shattuck talked about a couple of days ago -- showing an increase in violence, an increase in repression, systematic rape, mutilation, murder, orphans being killed. And I think it's important that -- the President believes it's important that people know the extent to which these brutalities are occurring. And it is the most brutal regime in the hemisphere, which is part of it. But that is an important part, something the President will talk about. There won't be any pictures. But it is only one of the reasons and one of the things the President will address tonight.
Q: Dee Dee, if it is the most brutal regime in the hemisphere, how does the President then justify a willingness to allow them to walk away from whatever crimes and brutality and violence they've inflicted and get away scot-free, were they to leave in advance of an invasion?
MS. MYERS: Well, that was something that was envisioned under the Governors Island agreement -- that the military dictators would be able to leave without retribution. It's something that President Aristide has supported. As he has said many times and has repeated in his broadcasts, he wants to foster an environment of reconciliation, not retribution, and that violence begets violence.
So if there -- and I think ultimately the main objective of both -- of this President and this policy is to end this thing peacefully. And if he can foster that and promote that, then that's what he's willing to do.
Q: Considering how distressed the President was by those photographs and who was responsible for the butchery portrayed in them, does this part of the Governors Island Agreement that he's willing to abide by even now leave a bad taste in his mouth?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the most important thing is to end the brutality. That's been the objective of this policy -- to restore the democratically-elected government so the people of Haiti can get on with their lives and get on with building the institutions of a democratic society. That's the most important thing.
Now the other point is if they don't leave and if the multinational force goes in and gets them, then they will be turned over to the Haitian government, and they will be dealt with by the legitimate Haitian government. And that's a risk they ought not to be willing to take.
Q: describe the President's mood?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the President is determined. I think, as you saw yesterday, he feels very strongly about this. He understands this is difficult, and he understands that there is not at this point widespread popular support. But he believes it's the right thing to do and believes that presidents are often forced with difficult decisions, especially when it comes to potentially using force.
Q: Would you say he's upbeat, optimistic or somber --'
MS. MYERS: I would say he's determined. He's moving forward with this. I think he's resolved to follow through with this, to make sure that the dictators know that he's resolved to follow through with this.
Q: Can you tell us something about how he's spending his day and what percentage of his day is taken up with further consultations on this or monitoring the situation or whatever he might be -- else he might be dealing with?
MS. MYERS: He had his usual intelligence and security briefings this morning, which, of course, dealt with Haiti, among other things. He met with Secretary Perry and General Shalikashvili briefly this morning to talk about the announcement Secretary Perry just made about calling up the reserves. He signed the Executive Order which I think we've handed out copies of now. He's also spent some time doing a couple of other things, the meetings which we talked about this morning. One was meeting with the mission that he sent to Rwanda to evaluate -- or to Central Africa to evaluate the Rwanda relief mission. He also met with a group of black state and local officials. He's back in the Oval Office. Now, I believe he just began working on his speech. Again, he'll spend some time on that. And I think he'll spend the bulk of the afternoon on sort of office business. which will include additional work on Haiti. As you know, he's made a number of phone calls over the last week or 10 days to other countries, building support for the multinational force. There are now, again, 21 countries participating in that, and --
MS. MYERS: The most recent one -- let me see if I have the list here -- St. Kitts and Nevis was yesterday, and there was one other one.
MS. MYERS: Grenada, thank you. And there may be one other one. I think we're at 21.
Q: calls today?
MS. MYERS: He may. He has continually been making calls.
MS. MYERS: He hasn't yet.
Q: What about the calls to Congress? -- watch any of the debate and did he --
MS. MYERS: Nothing was scheduled, but sometimes calls come in and he returns them. Certainly, it's something he's going to continue consultations on.
Q: Does the United States plan to be the source of transport for Aristide to return, do you know?
MS. MYERS: That is envisioned. I'm not sure what the actual source is, but that's certainly something that we will work with him on. We've been in constant contact with him, I think. Members of the administration have been talking with him on virtually a daily basis.
Q: Who's the liaison with him, do you know?
MS. MYERS: Primarily Bill Gray.
Q: Dee Dee, is the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Bill Swing, planning on talking to Cedras to deliver a final entreaty or ultimatum prior to an invasion?
MS. MYERS: As you know, Ambassador Swing's been working very hard, talking to everybody he can about the seriousness of this situation, that the dictators must go one way or another, and he's talked to a number of people and encouraged them to pass that message on. I'm not going to get into specifically what conversations he might have or might not have with other people down there.
Q: Dee Dee, the human rights abuses certainly aren't new. And after the Somalia disaster, everybody here said the most important thing was to build public support. And I'm wondering why has the President not done anything until tonight in a sustained way to make his case and why force might be --
MS. MYERS: Well, again, it's something that he has talked about regularly. Yes. Yes.
Q: talked regularly?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q: speech about it, devoted just to Haiti? It's been in press conferences with lots of other --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that's important, though. I mean, he has had press conferences; he's addressed it consistently. I mean, particularly since May 8th when the President announced the appointment of Ambassador Gray and of the change in policy. He's consistently talked about it. I think as the situation moves forward, it is important for him to have this speech and to talk directly to the American people, particularly as the end game approaches.
Q: done enough?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if you can ever do enough. But this certainly isn't the only issue that he's been dealing with in recent months. There has been not only domestic issues, but the situation in Cuba and Bosnia in recent months, the situation in North Korea. But I do think it is something that he's talked about consistently and has tried to resolve peacefully. But I think as this end game approaches, that the dictators have rejected every effort at a diplomatic resolution to this, and time has just simply run out.
Q: at all, then, in the White House -- I hate to call it a sales job, but an attempt to build public support over the past month, if the President has, in fact, dealt with this consistently --
MS. MYERS: I would just point you back --
Q: in polls showing 70-some odd percent opposition.
MS. MYERS: Wait a minute. If you look back over the course of the use of U.S. force, not just in this year and not just in this decade, but over the course of the last 200 years, Americans are, by culture and by definition, very reluctant to use force. And that goes back, certainly, to the action in the Persian Gulf with President Bush a few years ago, to World War II, to Korea. I mean, Americans have traditionally been reluctant to use force. I don't think that this is any different for President Clinton. But I think it is incumbent on this President, as it is with others, to make a case for why -- what U.S. interests are at stake and why the U.S. is pursuing the policy it's pursuing. And he's going to do that tonight.
Q: I don't believe our position ever -- in either of the three examples you've cited --
MS. MYERS: Oh, I would go back and check if I was -- I don't have any numbers in front of me, but I think I read something recently about the Persian Gulf that's very consistent with what we're seeing now.
Q: What is the source of the photos the President showed yesterday?
MS. MYERS: They came to us through the State Department, but I'm not -- I don't know if they were specifically part of the -- produced by the embassy or just collected by the embassy. But it is part of Assistant Secretary Shattuck's human rights report.
Q: And the other question is, was the President required to send a letter to Congress exactly -- concurrently with issuing the executive order or is that just his option?
MS. MYERS: I can take that. I don't know what the requirement is. It's certainly a courtesy that he would forward to them.
Q: But always at the exact moment or not a day or two later or some subsequent time?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what the requirements are. I can certainly check that and get back to you.
Q: Per past practice under the War Powers Act has been that presidents have called in the leadership of both parties just prior to an invasion or as things are being launched. Would you expect that the President would follow that also?
MS. MYERS: Well, I certainly wouldn't rule that out at sometime in the near future he would consult with the joint leaders -- bipartisan leaders.
Q: You've made it clear here that you hope that the resolve shown by the President and the military buildup might influence the military leaders in Haiti to leave. Perry said as much in his conference. Did the President or anyone in the administration communicate that to Mitchell yesterday and try to head off a vote in the Senate? And would the President object to any kind of congressional vote at this time as a hindrance to his military strategy?
MS. MYERS: With respect to the first question, that's always been our preferred outcome, that the dictators would leave voluntarily and that it would not be necessary to use other means. But at the same time, I think the President -- and that's been communicated to Congress as has our resolve to use other means should that become necessary. If the dictators don't step aside they will be forced out.
Q: Would a vote in Congress at this point compromise the President's strategy?
MS. MYERS: I think that that's up to Congress. Congress will decide how to proceed on this.
Q: Dee Dee, human rights abuses take place in an awful lot of countries around the world at this point. You and I can name them as well as anybody else. What makes these human rights abuses so particularly horrible that they warrant invasion by the United States where other others don't?
MS. MYERS: A number of things. Haiti is the only country in our hemisphere that has a democratically-elected government that was overthrown by dictators. It happens to be less than 200 miles from our shores. It happens to be in a hemisphere that's been swept by a tide of democracy, but democracy is not inevitable, and it's not irreversible. And it is incumbent on us to stand up for it and to protect it, particularly in our hemisphere and so close to our shores.
And I think as the human rights abuses have increased, the potential for exodus and increased migration so close to our country presents another problem. So not only are these abuses disgusting on their face and unacceptable, but they present a number of other problems for us because of the closeness and the potential impact on migration -- and not to mention the internal disruptions. Over 300,000 people internally, inside a country of 6 million people who are displaced, who are either in hiding or have been driven from their homes. I mean, the disruption there is enormous.
Q: A second question -- what sort of effort is the government making to arrange for Haitians who are out of Haiti now to return to Haiti in order to either help clean up -- (inaudible) -- help build whatever --
MS. MYERS: There's an interagency effort now in Guantanamo between the U.S. government and the Haitian government to recruit some of the Haitians who are in Guantanamo to participate, to work with the police monitors as part of the interim police force. As you know, the plan envisions creating an interim police force and a police academy to train a permanent civilian police force.
Now, the interim force would go in temporarily, made up of members -- acceptable members of the existing police force, perhaps existing military, and perhaps volunteers from Guantanamo or other places.
Q: There are reports suggesting that Haitians who are approached with that idea in Guantanamo are almost unanimously saying no, we don't want to go back at all.
MS. MYERS: I don't know what the success of it has been.
Q: Do you have any information other than that?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what the success of it has been. They're down there now.
Q: In your planning for this, how much do you anticipate that an invasion would sort of overwhelm the White House? I mean do you think that this is going to be the only thing that's going to dominate the White House for the next few weeks?
MS. MYERS: I think it's definitely going to dominate my life, if this briefing is any indication. But I think certainly it will be a -- depending on how things unfold here in the next few days, the main focus, although not the only focus, of the national security team. There are obviously people on the National Security Council who focus exclusively on other areas of the world. But for those people who deal in Latin America and specifically on Haiti, it will certainly occupy some of the President's time, but not all of it. As you can see now, I mean, we're entering the end game of this, and the President's spending a good deal of time on it, but by no means, all of his time on it.
Q: Do you have anything more on the U.S.S. Monsoon that ran aground?
MS. MYERS: Only that it did, in fact, run aground. Obviously, we've seen pictures of it, and that they expect it will be freed up soon.
Q: voodoo this morning. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: No, I didn't. I told you I was taking precautions -- personal precautions. You'll have to check with DOD to find out exactly what the situation is.
Q: Can you address charges being made today by an odd collections of pacifists and conservative senators that the President's action is meant to enhance an invasion of Haiti, is meant to enhance his credibility and his political standings?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we've -- the President has said and others have said that the credibility of the international community and the credibility of the United States' commitment to democracy, particularly in this hemisphere, are at stake. There's no question about that. But to suggest that there are political motives, it's really -- it's sad.
The President's making these decisions based on what's in the best interest of the American people. This ought not to be about partisan politics. Certainly that's not what the basis of the President's decision, and it ought not to be.
Q: And also how do you answer many -- recommendations made by several Democrats, Pell not among them, to hold off on an invasion and do go to Congress and try to get some sort of okay?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think, as the President has made clear, we've tried and exhausted all diplomatic means. We're not interested in negotiating. The dictators have had many, many, many opportunities to leave or to -- certainly could have participated in the Governors Island process or kept their word in that process. In the meantime, human rights abuses are increasing and the potential for further disruption is increasing. And the President believes the time to resolve is now. He's been working on it for 20 months. The coup happened three years ago. The previous administration said then, this coup must not survive, it must not stand. President Bush said that this was a threat to our security interests, our economic interests. We're simply pursuing a policy that this government has been pursuing for three years. And that's plenty long enough.
Q: So how do you size up the motives of the opponents, including many of the Democrats, Democratic leaders?
MS. MYERS: Well, you'd have to ask them. I was responding specifically to those who were ascribing partisan political motives or base domestic political motives to this President.
Q: Dee Dee, do you know if the President personally ordered the Justice Department to withdraw from some church case in Minneapolis before the Eight Circuit court?
MS. MYERS: He did.
Q: He did. Why was that?
MS. MYERS: Because he believed -- and I will have to get a little bit more information on this -- that the Religious Freedom Act should be interpreted more broadly than it was being interpreted.
Q: The question, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: The Justice Department put out a statement, I think they put it out today or they're going to, that says that they have withdrawn an amicus brief in a case involving bankruptcy laws and the Religious Freedom Act. And I'm sorry I don't have much more details on it than that.
Q: On another case, was the President consulted, do you know, or did he have any role at all in the Justice Department's decision to change sides in the Taxman case and in New Jersey. That's the case involving the school teacher who -- the administration, following the last administration's course, saw through a trial, and now the Department wants to change sides on the case. Does the President approve of that, do you know?
MS. MYERS: That was a decision made by the Solicitor General.
Q: And does the President accept and endorse that decision or is he troubled by it or what?
MS. MYERS: I think that, again, it was made by the Solicitor General. The President, to my knowledge, hasn't commented on it.
Q: Was he consulted about it, do you know?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I'll have to take that.
Q: Would you? I'd appreciate --
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q: How did the Minneapolis case come to the President's attention? And are there other cases where he's gone down to the level to change where the Justice Department --
MS. MYERS: I don't know how it came to his attention. I'll have to take that.
Q: Is this something that's happened before? Or do you think this is the first time --
MS. MYERS: I don't want to make a broad statement, but then I'm not sure. You mean, that he's ordered the Justice Department to take a look at something they've done?
MS. MYERS: I think that's happened before. We've done that in the past, at least in one other occasion. Now the people that are handling this, just so you know, for the White House are Phil Lader and Joel Klein. I can certainly post a little more information about it, or I would encourage you to call one of them for more details about it.
Q: Cedras says, indicated in the interview that he's willing to die. But is, in view of the reconciliation that Aristide has been fostering, is there a special objective to capture Cedras and the leaders, or --
MS. MYERS: If they're there when the multinational force shows up, they will be subject to being captured and handed over to the government. If they choose to leave ahead of time, there's no effort -- there will be no effort to pursue them outside of Haiti.
Q: What about within Haiti?
Q: But what about taking their lives --
MS. MYERS: I don't think we'll turn this into a manhunt, but if the multinational force comes across, then they will certainly arrest them.
Q: Does the offer end? Does an offer of passage out of the country end as soon as we touch ground there?
MS. MYERS: Yes. The deal is nil if the U.S. or the multinational force has to go in there and kick them out.
Q: Actually, let me add a fine point to that question. If we invade and they disappear, are they then subject for search outside the shores of Haiti? I mean, are we going to look for them if they turn up --
MS. MYERS: Again, I don't think there will be a massive -- there are no plans for a massive manhunt. I don't know if they turn up in a third country and they're apprehended there, I guess that country would have to make a decision about what to do with them.
Q: Was that third case -- the other case, rather, in which the White House has intervened with the Justice Department, is that child pornography case in Pennsylvania?
MS. MYERS: That would be one example.
Q: You said on at least one other occasion -- is that the case you were thinking of?
MS. MYERS: That's the one that came to mind.
Q: countries that are supplying troops, are we going to defray all or part of the military expenses in this expedition, or increase their aid, or is this out of their pockets?
MS. MYERS: I think -- I'm not sure. Probably ought to go to the State Department on that. Yes, I think it depends on -- we have different arrangements with each of the different countries, and I think it depends on -- it's kind of a case-by-case basis.
Q: Are there cases, then, in which we are basically paying for their --
MS. MYERS: Again, I don't know what all the arrangements are.
Q: Dee Dee, if you do persuade the Haitian leaders to leave, will the White House go on to disclose the terms of the deal that induced them to do so?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. It will depend on -- I just don't -- that's a bit of a hypothetical.
Q: Dee Dee, as the President prepares his speech and weighs this decision, is he looking back either at past speeches by presidents who committed forces to combat, or to sort of historical events that parallel this moment?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that he has looked at any specifically with reference to this. As you know, he's a great student of history and is well-versed on American history and the history of presidents in particular. I would certainly expect that the speechwriters have looked at similar situations and what presidents have said.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:15 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269722