Press Briefing by Sandy Berger, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and William Gray, Special Envoy To Haiti
The Briefing Room
3:36 P.M. EDT
DEPUTY ASSISTANT BERGER: Good afternoon. The President this morning met with his senior foreign policy advisors and military leaders, General Shalikashvili and Admiral Miller, who briefed him on the final preparations that are ongoing in connection with Haiti. There was a broad discussion of that.
As you know, the President has just come from a meeting at which the 24 nations that have joined the multinational coalition were represented. They will be present during this multinational phase in some 2,000 numbers during this period.
I'd like to ask Bill Gray to just give you a flavor of the meeting that took place with the leaders from around the world.
MR. GRAY: Thank you, Sandy. There were 24 nations represented, with several prime ministers. You've had an opportunity to talk with at least two of them, as well as deputy prime ministers and foreign ministers, as well as ambassadors, representing those who have already committed to be a part of a multinational coalition. We expect that that number will increase.
I think the mood was a mood of commitment, solidarity, all agreeing that the multinational force would be utilized if the coup leaders do not step down, and are ready to go forward, and participate in a joint effort.
Also, President Aristide addressed the group and responded to President Clinton's address last night, where he made it very clear that he was thankful for the actions and the support of the international community, Resolution 940. He laid out his vision for a new Haiti in terms of education, health care and prosperity; reached out to the military, calling for no revenge, no retribution, to use his words, and that they are the "sons of the land," if I remember the quote exactly; and then closed his presentation by making it very clear that he did believe in democracy to the point that, despite what has happened, that the real test of a democracy was relinquishing power and that, in compliance with the Haitian constitution, he wanted to demonstrate what a real democrat ought to do, and that is to oversee new elections in 1995, as well as parliamentary elections this year; and said very clearly that he would not be a candidate and could not be a candidate.
The reception of President Aristide's words was a very strong one among the members of the coalition and the representatives who were there. And I think there was, overall, a general mood of solidarity among the coalition members.
Q: Mr. Gray, there are reports that -- in fact, Secretary of Defense William Perry just said -- that the U.S. is engaged in a last-ditch effort to resolve this peacefully, and is meeting through intermediaries or an intermediary with Lieutenant General Cedras and his allies. What is going on? And is there any hope that this last-ditch effort will succeed?
MR. BERGER: We have made it clear from the beginning that if the military leaders wanted to discuss with us the circumstances of their departure before the introduction of a multinational force, we would be prepared to do that. But beyond that -- and that message has been conveyed to them, both very publicly yesterday by the President and privately. But beyond that, there are no negotiations.
Q: Privately today?
MR. BERGER: Throughout this period, that message has been conveyed to them very clearly that they -- this multinational force is coming, that the time for negotiating the fundamentals here has passed, but that if they care to discuss with us the circumstances of their departure, we are prepared to discuss that.
Q: But -- is that today. Is that private message being carried today? You haven't answered that question. Maybe you won't but could you tell us, yet whether --
MR. BERGER: That has been the continuing posture that we've taken throughout this entire situation.
Q: Have you seen any flexibility or any division among the three to indicate that one or another of them might be willing to leave?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think clearly the reality of the arrival of the multinational force is one that is increasingly apparent to the leadership of Haiti and to the people of Haiti. But ultimately we will judge them by what they do.
Q: Mr. Berger, any other countries sending intermediaries besides the United States?
MR. BERGER: I can't comment or even know about what other contacts General Cedras and others may have with others.
Q: Mr. Gray, what is your sense of whether there is a possibility to avoid an actual military invasion?
MR. GRAY: My sense is, is that if the coup leaders, General Cedras, Biamby and Francois step down, that will avoid it. That is what the President said last night, and they know what that message means. And I think it is very clear that it is imminent, that the multinational force will be coming to Haiti. And the President made that very clear, and they know what that means. And so, it is up to them to act, and as Mr. Berger has pointed out, we have always said for the last month or two, that they can contact our ambassador and discuss the modalities and the technicalities of a departure.
Q: Have they?
MR. GRAY: And I would simply say to you that they need to do that, and they need to do it immediately.
Q: Can we assume, sir, that the Ambassador is the vehicle through whom such messages or communiques are being conducted, that he's the man now?
MR. BERGER: We have a very, very capable ambassador in Port-au-Prince, Bill Swing, very seasoned and experienced man. We have a great deal of confidence in him.
Q: That's not quite an answer to the question. May we assume that he is the point person?
MR. BERGER: If the coup leaders would like to have a discussion of the circumstances under which they can leave, Ambassador Swing is perfectly capable of doing that.
Q: Mr. Berger, there are already reports of proAristide forces are exacting their revenge on their enemies. With all that's been written about the possible instability of Aristide, how can you assure the public that we can trust him to be careful with his democracy and with his government if he gets back in?
MR. BERGER: Let me express one cautionary note that I suspect you'll hear us express often in the coming days. There's going to be lots of rumors floating around. Many of you have a good deal of experience with these situations, and I would caution you not to accept every rumor as something that is in reality happening.
As to the larger point of your question, I think President Aristide expressed today what he has been expressing very consistently to the Haitian people over the past several months through broadcasts into Haiti that we have facilitated. And that is the message of reconciliation, a message of trying to bring the country together, of urging people, supporters of his, as well as those who have been hostile to not act through violence. That is something I think he understands extremely well, that it is not in his interest or in the interest of Haiti for there to be now a period of recrimination.
I would add one final thought. There is amassed a very substantial international economic effort that is prepared to move into Haiti when conditions permit. Obviously, that depends on there being a relatively secure environment there, and I think President Aristide understands that the rebuilding of this country by the international community is very much dependent on an atmosphere of relative stability.
Q: Mr. Berger, after an invasion, how much time will pass before Reverend Aristide was brought back to Haiti? How much time would pass before the troops from all 44 of these countries would actually set foot there?
MR. BERGER: With respect to the first, I think it's President Aristide's intention to come back relatively soon.
Q: What does that mean?
MR. BERGER: Perhaps in the first two or three weeks. But obviously that depends to some degree on the conditions on the ground.
With respect to the sequencing of the arrival of these 24 countries, it varies. I think certainly in the beginning, this will be overwhelmingly American in the first few days. But these countries will be arriving -- particularly as we stand up an interim Haitian police force, many of these countries will provide police monitors and others so that we can operate in Haiti with a Haitian police force as rapidly as possible.
So over the period of the first week and weeks, you will see nation after nation joining.
Q: If I can follow, how many of these countries are being reimbursed for their costs?
MR. BERGER: They're -- in some cases, we are undertaking their transportation costs, but you'd have to go to the Pentagon to get a more specific answer.
Q: Nothing beyond that?
MR. BERGER: I would refer you to the Pentagon for arrangements.
Q: May I follow on those countries, too --specifically on Israel and Jordan -- either of you gentlemen -- what role are they going to play? How many people do you expect from Israel, how many from Jordan? And will any of these countries really assume a membership role?
MR. BERGER: Well, Israel, I know, particularly is going to provide police monitors, and I think in the number or range of 50 to 100, roughly. I think that that is also what the Jordanians intend to provide as well.
MS. MYERS: Sandy's got to go, so let's have one more question.
Q: Have you reached a status of forces agreement with President Aristide?
MR. BERGER: I believe we either have, or will, in the next day. The last details are being worked out. There's no problem --
Q: And what's your expectation of votes on the Hill next week on this question?
MR. BERGER: I wouldn't want to predict. I think our view is, the President has this authority to proceed, the President's made a judgment that it is in the national interest to do so, that this is an operation that is analogous to others in which presidents have not sought or obtained prior congressional approval, and that is our posturing.
Q: Mr. Gray, are you satisfied, sir, that Mr. Aristide has overcome or is not still seized with the strong anti-American and anti-capitalist passions that he has in the past expressed?
MR. GRAY: I can only speak from my experience of the last four months in dealing with President Aristide. I have not experienced any of the things that you have just described. Secondly I must refer to the speech that he gave today, where he described democracy as the ability to transfer power, living within the constitution, and here is a person whose term has been altered by three years; but yet says he will abide by democracy in the constitution and not run again and not seek an extension. I think that is a very clear signal of what democracy is all about, and a very powerful example.
Q: Has he expressed to you any commitment to market economics?
MR GRAY: He has expressed an interest and a commitment in the speech today. If you read the speech today, he talked about the market and the marketplace and growing and the economy. I think President Aristide understands the dynamics of the marketplace and the market economies and that the way to grow is to have individual freedom, free markets -- and that's what democracy has produced. I think he is clearly aware that in this hemisphere, as well as throughout the world village, other forms of economic and political organizations have been in deep despair -- and in trouble -- and many of them have fallen under there own weight. And in today's presentation to the prime ministers he did talk about just those subjects. Thank you.
END 3:50 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Sandy Berger, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and William Gray, Special Envoy To Haiti Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269515