Press Briefing by Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Secretary of Defense William Perry, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General John Shalikashvili
The Briefing Room
9:52 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: I think we'll hear now from Secretary of State Warren Christopher. He will make a brief opening statement, and then Secretary Perry and General Shalikashvili will also be available, along with Secretary Christopher, to take your questions.
So, Secretary Christopher.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Good evening. Perhaps I'll say first that Tony Lake is off on other duties, otherwise he would be here with General Shalikashvili and Secretary Perry and myself.
We've been saying since the beginning of our administration that the goals of our Haiti policy were to restore democracy to Haiti and to return President Aristide. Today we have taken very long and important steps toward achieving both of those goals.
As I look back on this situation, it seems to me that a critical time occurred when the illegal government forced out of Haiti the U.N. monitors. That resulted in the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 940, which provides, basically, the context for what's happened today. All that's been done here, I think, is, in effect, a way to carry out U.N. Security Council Resolution 940. And what's been done here is to, I think, achieve the goals set forth in that resolution and achieve the goals of the policy that we have been trying to carry out during the entire time we've been in office.
There is certainly challenging times ahead for us in implementing this policy. There will be first the obligation to secure the environment in Haiti. And our troops will be going in tomorrow, as you know, from what the President has said. We expect that President Aristide will be returned to power in an appropriate way in the very near future. And then, over time, we look forward to the transition to the United Nations mission within a matter of months. But we have, I think, the structure and the basis for moving ahead to achieve the goals of our policy in Haiti.
And, of course, the best news of the day is that we're going to do this in a permissive environment with less risk to American lives, less risk to our troops than would have been achieved without these goals.
As I look back over the course of the day, I want to pay great tribute to the negotiating team that we had in Haiti -- with President Carter, with General Powell, and with Senator Nunn. We had, I think, the perfect combination to make it clear to the leaders of Haiti that not only this administration, but those outside this administration in leading positions in American life were strongly convinced that the illegal government must leave.
I also want to pay tribute to the United Nations and the coalition of 25 governments that were prepared to join us, and will join us in this endeavor. I think these were all factors that conjoined together to convince the de factos that the time had come for them definitely to go.
This is clearly power in the service of diplomacy in one of the most convincing ways that I can recall. As the day went on, we, of course, we were in very close touch with the -- our representatives, the President's negotiators in Haiti. We had an open line to the negotiating areas all during the course of the day. The President talked not only with former President Carter, but to General Powell and Senator Nunn during the course of the day.
I would say that the sticking point for us was to insist on there being a definite date on which the de factos would leave, and without that, the President was unwilling to go forward. And when that was achieved, as the day wore on and as it became apparent to the de factos that they were going to be taken out in other ways, we were able to get an agreement to the departure on that date, which I think is the critical element of this agreement. We hope that they may be forced to leave before then because of the passage of the amnesty law. But we do have an outside date, and that is critical.
I do want to step aside now, because in many ways I'm sure you'll be much more interested in talking about the military aspects of this than the diplomatic aspects; although as I say, this is one instance where power has served diplomacy in an absolutely classic way.
Q: Mr. Secretary, where will they go and how much money will they take with them?
SECRETARY PERRY: We'll come back to the questions in just a minute.
I just want to add one thing to what the Secretary said. I was on board the Wasp last night, off the shores of Haiti, talking with the more than 1,000 troops who are on board there. I can tell you, they were cocked, primed and ready to go. But they knew and I knew that a forced entry was not without risks -- there would be some casualties not only to our troops, but to the Haitians as well. And so we all hoped we could avoid that kind of a forced entry. And that is what this negotiation has achieved, so we've strongly supported it.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Pardon me. On the question you asked now, we don't know where they will go. But as I said earlier today, I can't imagine that they would want to stay in Haiti with several thousand American troops there, with Aristide returned to power; but when they leave, they will not take any American money with them.
Q: Mr. Secretary, their departure from the country, though, is not an explicit part of this agreement. How can you be certain that they will go? And could you address widespread reports earlier today that President Carter was insisting on staying long after this White House wanted him to leave?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, with respect to the first part of your question, Andrea, just repeat what I said -- I think for all practical purposes, they are certain to leave. I doubt that they'll want to stay there when President Aristide is returned to power. I doubt they'll want to stay there with many thousand American troops and then later on, U.N. troops.
We had long discussions, of course, on the telephone with the President's representatives there. They've all come back together. It was a negotiating team of extraordinary unity and effectiveness. And they worked together and they're leaving together.
Q: But did President Carter want to stick it out long after the President felt that they should be returning, that they were not going to reach an agreement? Was there a disagreement on whether or not the negotiations should continue?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: There was no disagreement on whether negotiations should continue. I must say that, knowing what we knew about the military plans, we were concerned that they be able to leave Haiti tonight. And it was only in those terms that that discussion took place.
Q: On that score, would you actually have invaded while they were still in Haiti?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: That's why we were so anxious to get them out.
Q: But would you have actually permitted this to --
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: No, we would have ensured that they left Haiti before the invasion began.
Q: Mr. Secretary, can you tell us, please, who is covered by the amnesty that the Haitian Parliament is expected to pass? Is it just General Cedras and General Biamby, or does it include other military officers? And if they're not covered, how do you expect them to want to cooperate?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, of course, that will be up to the Haitian Parliament. But the plan is that there would be a broad amnesty for all the members of the military. That's one thing that General Cedras has insisted on. But it was because of our concern that that might take some time, or that that amnesty might not be enacted promptly, although perhaps it will be, that we insisted on an outside date.
Q: Can I ask General Shalikashvili a question? General, just to clarify this point on the start of the military operation. When did you -- were you told to begin the operation tonight? And was that connected to the negotiations? Was the part of the strategy to convince Cedras to accept the terms that were acceptable to President Clinton? Or was this operation always scheduled to begin Sunday evening?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: This operation was scheduled to begin Sunday evening for a number of days now, yes.
Q: And do you believe that when General Cedras learned about it, that's when he blinked? And how did he learn about precisely, because there's some confusion whether he was told by General Powell or that the troops at Ft. Bragg were getting ready to begin this invasion, or whether he learned it independently through the news media?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I am absolutely convinced that it was being aware of the preparations of such an overwhelming force that caused him to blink. It is my understanding that he received that information through a third party. I don't know who it is. But not General Powell.
Q: Secretary Christopher, you, Secretary Perry, the President, his spokespeople all last week and through yesterday and this morning were insistent that there were be no negotiations, that this team was going down there only to discuss how they would get out of the country. Now there are at least some conditions attached to their departure. When was the decision made to expand the negotiations into negotiations and why?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I think it's fair to say that the negotiations were all related to departure arrangements and the timing of departure arrangements. I think it's entirely fair to say that the discussions were all within the context of the President's instructions to the delegation that what we're talking about was departure and departure arrangements.
Q: Mr. Secretary, by leaving the military leaders in there for several days or weeks, does that not increase the risk of them running either organized or guerrilla activities against our troops that are going to be there tomorrow, starting tomorrow?
GENERAL PERRY: The risk of paramilitary or guerrilla activity has always been there, no matter how we went in. We believe that risk is minimized by the agreement of the leaders of the Haitian military to cooperate with the entry. That --
Q: These are the same leaders though, sir, who promised last year to step down. How can we trust them this time?
GENERAL PERRY: We are not -- our entry plans are not based on trust. We are going in with a very large and a very wellarmed military force. Our protection will be in our arms, not in trust.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: -- in answer to that -- last October 15th when they were scheduled to leave, there were no American troops there. This year I expect there will be about 15,000, give or take a few thousand troops there. And I think that's a fairly good guarantee that they'll carry out their understanding.
Q: Secretary Christopher, who will be held to account for the massive human rights violations that the President said justified this massive U.S. military buildup and planned invasion?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I think that there would be a strong spirit of reconciliation in Haiti. President Aristide himself has emphasized that. He has said that he preferred that Cedras and Biamby leave the country. And I think that's really the answer to the question now whether or not under internal law of Haiti there would be some prosecutions for human rights violations will really depend upon the Haitian laws. There's a sound constitution there. There's a sound legal structure. And I think the important thing is to be able to implement that legal structure.
Q: But you said there would be a broad amnesty, is not correct?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Yes, the legislature will be considering -- the parliament will be considering a broad general amnesty, which, as you know, President Aristide promulgated an amnesty, and this would be a follow-up on that. But I want to emphasize again that because we did not want to be held subject or conditional to the passage of that amnesty, that we insisted on an outside date for departure.
Q: Mr. Secretary, is it for departure or resignation, sir -- the October 15th date -- is that for departure or resignation?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: You're right to correct -- it is departure from their office and resignation from their office.
Q: And having said that, when you said earlier that the sticking point on your side was to -- you had to insist on a definite day by which de factos would leave, we've always thought you were talking about leaving the country. You're saying now that you were not talking about that?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, we've always said that the key factor was to relinquish power. We've also said we thought they should leave the country. And I say again that I think that in practical terms they will leave the country.
Q: There's 27 days, if I'm counting correctly, between now and October 15th. That will take a long time -- does it take that long to get the assembly to vote on this? Was that a condition that was placed by the military?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, you know, parliamentary bodies do take some time. We hope they'll do it more rapidly. Some of the Aristide supporters, as you know, have been here in the United States and out of the country. We'll try to facilitate their return to the country so that parliament will be able to act swiftly. But we want to have an outside limit on --
Q: May I have a follow-up, sir? Does that mean that the assembly will be composed of the Aristide faction and the faction that is there now?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, the two houses of the parliament, and I don't want to pose as a precise expert on that, will be formed in the way that they presently are. As you know, a number of the Aristide -- the Aristide supporters have left the country and are -- many of them are in Florida.
Q: Can you and General Shali have told us as much as you can about how the troops will come ashore? Will it be comparable to the invasion plan, with the Marines perhaps taking the north shore and the army going in Port au Prince? What can you share with us?
SECRETARY PERRY: There's important similarities and important differences. The most important differences are that we're not having to make a forced entry, we will not have to do it in the middle of the night, and we will not have to do it in the middle of the night, and we will not have to use our paratrooping forces to do it. So you subtract that from it and what's left is a very similar force.
Shali, would you like to add more to that?
Q: And what time, sir, do you think the first troops will come ashore, if you can tell us?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I can tell you that General Shelton, the commander of those troops, is expected to be there in the morning. He's expected to meet with General Cedras to inform him how it is that we propose to bring the other forces in; and after those discussions, then to order the movement of those forces.
My expectation is that those forces will begin arriving sometime tomorrow afternoon. But I really need to leave it up to General Shelton, who has the authority to work out the specific details.
Q: Can I follow up on that? Secretary Perry, can you tell us, with our troops in place but the dictatorship still in office, who's going to be running the country? Where is the dividing line as to who has authority over what?
SECRETARY PERRY: As long as the de facto government is still in charge, they will be in charge of the police. The new police force will come in with the new government, although we hope to begin some of the preparation and vetting for that during this interim period. The military force -- the U.S. military force --will be there to provide a fundamental security role; first of all, and most importantly, to ensure that the provisions of this agreement are carried out.
Q: Well, is there a provision to give primacy to one or the other of the forces in case of a dispute?
SECRETARY PERRY: The primacy will be with the U.S. military forces.
Q: Excuse me, Secretary Perry, if they refuse to leave on October 15th, will the military be arresting them?
SECRETARY PERRY: I don't want to write out a formula for what will happen then. We would be confronted then with a situation like we were confronted yesterday, with the difference being that we would have 15,000 troops already on the ground. So whatever our problems in enforcing our will at that stage will be greatly facilitated by the fact that we have our troops on the ground.
Q: And do we think there's any threat from Francois, who apparently is in hiding and is not a signatory to this agreement?
SECRETARY PERRY: I would see if either Shali or Secretary Christopher would want to add to that. But I don't believe that's a significant threat, myself.
Q: Mr. Secretary, do you have any more information about Francois?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, I think that his position is sufficiently eroded in Haiti that the military leaders, either the current ones or those who replaced them, will be able to issue orders to him that will be quite effective.
Q: I'm intrigued that you think that only because the planes were in the air did the coup leaders blink. You mean that they thought two aircraft carriers and the whole off-shore surrounded with an armada was a bluff? I mean, didn't that disturb them at all? It had no impact until you started the invasion?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Isn't it interesting what psychological moment finally causes somebody to decide?
Q: You mean that's the only time they capitulated and went for the agreement?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: That's the way the facts look, Helen.
Q: Well, speaking of psychological, Secretary Christopher, can you talk about the psychological -- there seems to be some face-saving that had to go on here. It seems to me that the administration had to blink on the departure-from-country date in order to get this agreement, because these guys were worried about losing face, being forced out of the country in a written agreement. Is that what you had to do in order to get this agreement? You decided it wasn't worth spilling American blood in order to get them to agree to leave on a certain date?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, we, as I said at the beginning, we achieved the goals of our policy. If we could do that and minimize the risk to American troops, that seemed a very prudent thing to do, and we did it.
END 10:14 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Secretary of Defense William Perry, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General John Shalikashvili Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269553