Press Briefing by Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State Bill Gray, and Deputy National Security Advisor Sandy Berger
The Briefing Room
2:10 P.M. EDT
MR. GRAY: Let me begin by simply saying that today was the farewell ceremony of President Aristide coming to the White House to thank President Clinton. In a private meeting, it was a very warm and joyous feeling that the journey is just about complete. President Aristide thanked President Clinton and the American people profusely, and especially the American military that is doing such a fantastic job down in Haiti.
The President shared with President Aristide the fact that in the audience would be the wives and children of many of our military personnel, and that is why, during his presentation today, President Aristide took time out to especially thank the spouses of those men and women serving in Haiti for their service, and especially the children.
I think clearly the mood that I sense from President Aristide was one of joy, one that -- a sense of great responsibility that will be facing him as he goes back to meet the challenges of reconciliation and building democracy in Haiti. President Aristide has said on several occasions this week to us that he is really looking forward to the return and to the moment of stepping again on Haitian soil. But he is well aware of the great challenges that he will face and is looking forward to working with the CARICOM community, the OAS, as well as the United States in making sure that over the next few months of his administration that there would be democracy, there would be opportunity, and there would be reconciliation.
Let me turn now to Mr. Sandy Berger.
MR. BERGER: Thank you, Bill. And thank you for the enormous contribution that you have made to the achievement that we are on the verge of seeing tomorrow.
I just got off the phone a moment ago with Vicki Huddleston, who is our intrepid DCM in Port-au-Prince, and I asked her what the mood was in the city. And she said it is like there are thousands of Haitians cleaning up as if there is a great big wedding tomorrow. It's a joyous mood. They are obviously very happy about the imminent return of President Aristide and the formal restoration of democratic government.
Let me just tell you a few words about what will happen tomorrow. There will be, tomorrow morning, three planes taking off from Andrews -- two U.S. Air Force planes, one additional plane that the Haitian government has chartered. Leading the presidential delegation will be Secretary of State Christopher. The Vice Chair will be Bill Gray. There will be a number of congressional participants in the delegation. The leadership has designated Senator Dodd and Congressman Rangel to lead the congressional component of the delegation. There will also be private individuals. We will have a list available later today. There will also be a larger Haitian delegation, partly traveling on the Air Force planes and on the Haitian charter plane, making the trip to Port-au-Prince.
The arrival will be shortly be noon. The party will be helicoptered to the palace, where President Aristide will address the Haitian people. There then will be a lunch. Secretary Christopher will have some separate meetings with individuals in the Haitian government and others who will be attending. And we will be returning the delegation tomorrow night.
Q: Who's putting on the lunch?
MR. BERGER: The Haitian government.
Q: What time do you depart?
MR. BERGER: I think the idea is that wheels will be up around 6:30 a.m. tomorrow. We'll be back tomorrow night. I'll open up the questions to either Bill or I.
Q: To both of you, I guess, Randall Robinson has criticized some of the things that have been provided for Cedras, Biamby and Francois, particularly the rental agreement on the personal homes. Your response, Ambassador Gray?
MR. GRAY: Well, I think that the rental agreements are not anything that are objectionable. They're at fair market rent. In light of what's going to be going on over the next few months in Haiti, certainly the United States government will be needing additional space, and to pay fair market rent for additional space is not a negative.
I think really what we've got to do is keep the focus on what has been achieved here. And what has been achieved here is exactly the goals and the objectives of those who raise the question about rental of housing, the removal of the coup leadership, the restoration of democracy, the ending of human rights abuse and the ending of refugee outflows. That has been the goal of the policy. It has been achieved.
And I think that the issue of renting several houses which can be utilized at a fair market value is not an issue at all that should mar the joy that is going to take place tomorrow when President Aristide returns and when the people of Haiti see democracy restored.
MR. BERGER: If I could just add one other thing to that because there have been completely erroneous reports about $80 million freed up for Cedras and Biamby in connection with their departure. Those reports are just wrong. The $80 million, I think, referenced is the amount of money that was unfrozen on October 6 when we did away with the general asset freeze. Most of that money is money that was the money of large business families in Haiti. None of that money was Cedras or Biamby money.
There are some targeted sanctions that will be ended tomorrow as all sanctions are lifted. They are in the amount of several hundred thousand dollars. But there again, the only thing that we're aware of that involves Cedras and Biamby is a $1,000 check that apparently has been held up. So that it is simply incorrect to say that there were assets unfrozen for the Cedrases and Biambys in connection with their departures.
Q: Where do you think their money is?
Q: Well, where does this money go? Who gets the $80 million?
MR. BERGER: The $80 million was money that was part of the general asset and transaction freeze that applied to --
Q: Goes to people still in Haiti?
MR. BERGER: Correct. It's the large business families in Haiti and part of reconciliation is --
Q: So it's --
MR. BERGER: If I could just finish -- part of reconciliation is saying let's get on with rebuilding Haiti and let's not continue having sanctions.
Q: Where do you think Cedras's and Biamby's money is?
MR. BERGER: I have no idea. I don't know whether --
Q: Are you saying none of it is theirs?
MR. BERGER: That's correct.
Q: Except for $1,000 dollars, right?
MR. BERGER: The only thing we're aware of in checking our records is a $1,000 check.
Q: And then the several hundred thousand that you mentioned is --
MR. BERGER: There are two different pots here, so to speak. There is the $80 million that were unfrozen back on October 6 in connection with general lifting of the unilateral sanctions. And those sanctions included certain asset and transaction freezes. There was a second, smaller amount that involved 600 -- generally members of the Haitian military, by name. Their assets in the United States were frozen. Those will be lifted, as always anticipated, and as discussed with President Aristide, when President Aristide returns. But as I said, even in that target amount, the only thing that we have identified that has any connection with Cedras and Biambi is $1,000.
Q: How big is that pot, the second pot?
MR. BERGER: Hundreds of thousands of dollars. I don't know the precise amount.
Q: And that $1,000 check belong to whom? Cedras --
MR. BERGER: Mrs. Cedras. Apparently, it was a transaction that was blocked because her name was on the list when the freeze took place.
Q: What about Francois -- his money?
MR. BERGER: Not as far as I know. Francois, the same applies.
Q: Can you tell us who this check was to or what it was for?
MR. BERGER: No. I'm sorry, I don't know.
Q: Can you give us any better timetable of the withdrawal of U.S. troops? Can you tell us about whether or not you feel they are still in danger and what the justification is to Americans for keeping them down there with Aristide going back?
MR. BERGER: Let me go it first, and then, Bill, you can add.
Our mission now is to maintain a secure environment for the period in which President Aristide returns, to help that government get on its feet through our security presence, and to begin the process of retraining and professionalizing the Haitian police and the Haitian military. We expect that job to be completed in a matter of months. At that point, the mission will be turned over to the U.N. The entire size of that mission will be no greater than 6,000, of which the United States military and civilian presence would be in the range of 3,000.
Q: Is there still a danger to U.S. troops?
MR. BERGER: I think we have to be very, very realistic about this. There continues to be risks involved in this mission and there continue to be dangers, as President Clinton has said every time he's spoken to this issue. But we believe every effort is being made to assure the security of our forces and that they are performing brilliantly. And all you have to do is travel behind an American humvee down the streets of Port-au-Prince and see the Haitians waving at our folks, our men and women, and the smiles back to realize the kind of rapport that's developed.
MR. GRAY: I think that Mr. Berger has hit the major points. I think the only thing I'd like to emphasize is that there is a transition point. The exact date of that transition point we can't give to you at this moment, but we know there is going to be hand-off by the multinational force that is currently there, over to the UNMIH, the United Nations Mission in Haiti, of which we will only be a part. They, in turn, along with a newly constituted civilian law enforcement authority, will have responsibility. And that is going to happen.
That has been a part of the plan. The United Nations has already agreed to it and we are working toward that end. And so I think it's very clear -- and it has been for some time in this policy -- that United States troops in large numbers in a multinational force would not be there indefinitely. But we will stay long enough to make sure that there is a secure environment and the UNMIH can come in, in an orderly transition and take over its responsibilities.
Q: Mr. Gray. These apartments that the government is renting from Cedras, what is the U.S. government going to use them for?
MR. BERGER: Our intention is to sublease these three houses, and I'm told that will not be difficult to do.
Q: I thought we needed them because we needed extra space.
MR. BERGER: There are international agencies coming into Haiti. There is a premium at this point on housing.
And let me just put this in context. It seems to me in the context of facilitating the departure of General Cedras and General Biamby and their families so that President Aristide could return to an environment which was more unified and had less elements of friction, the notion of our paying fair market rental for three houses for a year, which we'll, I'm sure, sublease, it seems to me is a minor blip.
Q: just a minor blip and what's the rent, the total rent?
MR. BERGER: It's $5,000 for the three houses.
Q: A month?
MR. BERGER: For the year -- $5,000 a month for the year.
Q: Each house?
MR. BERGER: That's the total for the three houses.
Q: All three?
MR. BERGER: Yes. And I am told that they are worth -- that is a conservative estimate of their rental value.
Q: Can you tell us whether, in fact --
MR. GRAY: Let me just make another point to this, beside the point that Mr. Berger made, in terms of this in relationship to facilitating the coup leaders leaving and producing an environment that is more conducive for reconciliation. President Aristide has supported the departure of the coup leaders and wants to have this kind of an atmosphere as well. And so I would urge us to keep in perspective these houses, which will be easily rentable, in light of the new activities that will be taking place in Port-auPrince as well as new activities over the year. So this is not, and it should not even end up being a cost factor for the American taxpayer. But the fact of the matter is and the focus ought to be on the fact that this facilitates an environment where you can really have reconciliation and that becomes the critical issue here.
Q: Can you tell us if the U.S. today is on the verge of paroling Cubans at Guantanamo who are over or under a certain age into the United States?
MR. BERGER: We're going to focus on Haiti. I think there will be some statement later with respect to Cuba.
Q: Is that correct, though?
MR. BERGER: I'd rather not get into it.
Q: Mr. Berger, there are some new reports today that link Cedras to Colombian drug cartels. Can you confirm that? And was there any immunity at all given to them for any criminal warrants that are out on any of them?
MR. BERGER: The answer to your second question is absolutely not. The answer to your first question, with respect to any kind of judicial proceedings, I would refer you to the Justice Department. And I don't the answer to that.
Q: Sandy, while you have you there, could you update us on the deployment of the Iraqi troops near Nasiriyah?
MR. BERGER: No, we're going to -- let's confine this briefing to Haiti.
Q: Has President Aristide told you when he plans to name a Prime Minister? And do you have any concern that if he doesn't do that immediately you're going to have less stability rather than more?
MR. BERGER: Well, there is an Acting Prime Minister, Prime Minister Malval, a very capable man who has already convened his government and has, I believe, had one Cabinet meeting already. And so there is a figure there as Acting Prime Minister. When President Aristide returns, he'll determine how he wants to proceed.
Q: But he hasn't told you when he plans to do that?
MR. BERGER: No.
Q: Sandy, what protection will U.S. forces now provide to any Haitians who feel jeopardized by Aristide's return?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think the general guidelines that we have operated on continue to pertain. Our basic mission there is to maintain a secure environment, essential civic order. If we see violent incidents and we're in a situation in which Americans -- the American commander on the scene believes that we have the capability to stop those incidents without endangering needlessly American soldiers, we will do so.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:26 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State Bill Gray, and Deputy National Security Advisor Sandy Berger Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269524