Remarks Prior to Discussions With President-Elect Ernesto Perez Balladares of Panama and an Exchange With Reporters
President Clinton. First, I'd like to welcome the President-elect of Panama and congratulate Mr. Perez Balladares on his election and on the successful democratic transition in Panama. I also want to thank him for his interest in the Summit of the Americas and his interest in exercising a leadership role in helping us to work on money laundering, drug trafficking, and a lot of the international criminal problems that we face together. And finally I'd like to thank him for his willingness to help us to establish some safe havens for people who are leaving Haiti. All these things, I think, augur well for his strong leadership not only within Panama but throughout the hemisphere, and I'm looking forward to this meeting.
Q. Mr. President, Congressman Richardson is saying that General Cedras is not intransigent, that he's realistic, indeed, that he wants to talk; whereas William Gray is saying time for talking is over, there's nothing to talk about except "When are you going to leave?" Who do you agree with, if either of them? And should the U.S. be talking to Cedras?
President Clinton. You have to ask Mr. Gray about that. But the issue is, if he wants to talk about when he's going to leave, then I'm sure that somebody would talk to him. But they have usurped power. They agreed to go in the Governors Island Agreement, Mr. Cedras and the others; they have not gone, and they must go. That's our position.
Q. Is Panama now offering safe havens for Haitian refugees?
President-elect Perez Balladares. Well, as you know, in a democracy there is only one President at a time. We're willing to cooperate because we think it's a hemispheric duty to bring about democracy in Haiti and also because we think it's humanitarian. Therefore yes, we would be inclined after September 1st, when I start my term, to work some agreement together to bring these two objectives into fruition.
Q. What about the October deadline that Mr. Gray was talking about? Mr. Gray seemed to be indicating that there was a deadline. Is there a——
President Clinton. We don't have a specific deadline. What he said was that he expected that democracy would be returned to Haiti before the end of the year but that our policy has no specific deadline.
[At this point, one group of reporters left the room, and another group entered.]
President Clinton. Let me say to all of you, I want to welcome the President-elect of Panama here and congratulate Mr. Perez Balladares on his election victory and on the successful transition to democracy and to express my appreciation for his interest in exercising a leadership role at the Summit of the Americas, which will be held at the end of this year in Miami, and particularly his interest in the whole question of doing more in a cooperative way on the problems of money laundering and drug trafficking. I think that there are many things we can do together. I am very encouraged about the possibility of a genuine partnership, and I'm looking forward to our first meeting.
Q. Mr. President, the situation in Panama, people are concerned about the Haiti situation, which Panama later on may be getting involved in that. What is the position of the Government in terms of that?
President Clinton. Well, we are, as you know, determined to see that the people who have illegally taken power in Haiti leave there. They agreed to leave last year. They broke their agreement, and we are pushing forward at the United Nations and in consultation with our allies and the friends of democracy throughout the Caribbean and Central America and South America to further that goal. And we'll do what we can to keep pushing it. We have strong sanctions in effect now, and we're going forward.
NOTE: The President spoke at 12:09 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to William H. Gray III, Special Adviser on Haiti, and Raoul Cedras, leader of the Haitian military. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.
William J. Clinton, Remarks Prior to Discussions With President-Elect Ernesto Perez Balladares of Panama and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/219351