Bill Clinton photo

The President's News Conference With President Jimmy Carter, General Colin Powell, and Senator Sam Nunn on Haiti

September 19, 1994

President Clinton. Good morning. I'd like to begin by thanking President Carter, General Powell, and Senator Nunn for their extraordinary work in Haiti. They got in very early this morning; they have had hardly any sleep for the last 2 nights, as they have worked virtually around the clock. The peaceful solution they helped to work out is another major contribution in all their careers, which have been devoted to the pursuit of peace and democracy. They have done a great service to our country, as well as to the people of Haiti, the people in our hemisphere, and the efforts of the United Nations, and we owe them a great deal of gratitude. I also want to thank the men and women of our United States armed services, who are beginning their operations in Haiti even as we meet here today. Their preparation and presence made a crucial difference in convincing the Haitian leaders to leave power.

In the end, two things led to the agreement to leave. The first was this delegation's appeal to the Haitians to do the right and honorable thing for their own people in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolutions. The second was the clear imminence of military action by the United States.

This is a good agreement. It will further our goals in Haiti. General Cedras and the other leaders will leave power no later than October 15th. After 3 years and a series of broken promises, American steadfastness has given us the opportunity to restore Haiti's democratically elected government and President Aristide.

American troops are beginning to take up their positions in Haiti today, and they will be there to make sure that the leaders keep their word. The agreement means that our troops do not have to invade. They have entered Haiti peacefully today. It minimizes the risks to American forces and to our coalition partners.

But I want to emphasize that the situation in Haiti remains difficult, it remains uncertain. The mission still has risks. But clearly we are in a better position to work for peace in a peaceable way today than we were yesterday.

My first concern, and the most important one, obviously, is for the safety and security of our troops. General Shalikashvili and Lieutenant General Hugh Shelton, our commander in Haiti, have made it clear to all involved that the protection of American lives is our first order of business.

Let me repeat what I said last night and what I said on Thursday night: This mission will be limited in time and scope. It is clearly designed to provide a secure environment for the restoration of President Aristide and democracy, to begin the work of retraining the police and the military in a professional manner, and to facilitate a quick handoff to the United Nations mission so that the work of restoring democracy can be continued, the developmental aid can begin to flow, Haiti can be rebuilt, and in 1995 another free and fair election for President can be held.

I also have to say again that we remain ready to pursue our interests and our obligations in whatever way we have to. But we hope that good faith and reasonableness will prevail today and tomorrow and in the days ahead, so that this will not be another violated agreement that the United States has to impose and enforce. We believe that, because of the work of this delegation, we have a chance to achieve that kind of good faith and cooperation.

And I want to thank, again, President Carter, General Powell, and Senator Nunn and ask them each in turn to come and make an opening statement, and then we will be available for your questions.

[At this point, President Carter praised the balanced use of military power and diplomacy, described the goals of the diplomatic mission, and expressed his appreciation for the President's support and the contributions of General Powell and Senator Nunn. General Powell thanked the President and expressed his satisfaction that with the administration's support and guidance, the delegation's discussions with the Haitian leaders helped bring about a peaceful solution. Senator Nunn then thanked the President for his strong leadership, discussed the roles played by General Powell and President Carter, and stressed the importance of free and fair parliamentary elections to Haitian democracy.]

President Clinton. Terry [Terence Hunt, Associated Press].

Q. Mr. President, you accused the military leaders in Haiti of maintaining a reign of terror; you said that they were responsible for 3,000 deaths. Why did you accept an agreement that allows them to stay in Haiti and perhaps run for elected office there? And can you tell us, is President Aristide satisfied with this agreement?

President Clinton. Well, first of all, I'm not entirely sure that they will stay in Haiti, but that was not the charge of this mission. They only had about a day and a half to stay down there, and they worked for probably 21 or 22 hours during that time they were there. Their charge was to assure that they would leave power.

Secondly, I don't take back anything I say about what has happened there in the last 3 years and the absence of any effort by the authorities to stop it and sometimes some direct responsibility for it. But with regard to the amnesty provision, that was a part of the Governors Island Agreement. And we had always felt that we should follow through on the agreements to which we had all been a part and we had to demonstrate a willingness to do that.

I cannot answer all the questions that you have asked about what will happen in the future and what decisions people will make in the future and where they'll wind up living. I don't know the answers to all that. But I do believe that this agreement substantially furthers our objectives there and dramatically increases the chances of a peaceful transition of power, a peaceful restoration of democracy, a peaceful restoration of President Aristide. He will have to determine for himself what he thinks about it, but it won't be very long before he'll have the opportunity to be back in Haiti, governing as President. And it won't be very long before we'll have new parliamentary elections, which I think everyone on all sides in Haiti believes is a very important thing.

Q. Mr. President, granted that victory has 1,000 fathers and defeat is an orphan, but do you intend to make as a pattern using military action without the consent of Congress or the approval of the American people?

President Clinton. Well, those are two different things. And with regard to the consent of Congress, I think that every President and all my predecessors in both parties have clearly maintained that they did not require, by Constitution, did not have to have congressional approval for every kind of military action.

I obviously think the bigger and more prolonged the action, the better it is to have congressional approval. If you look at the pattern of my two immediate predecessors, there was congressional approval sought in the Desert Storm operation where there was a 5 1/2 month buildup and a half a million troops facing hundreds of thousands of troops on the other side. There was not congressional approval in advance of the actions in Panama and Grenada. So I think that we will have to take that on a caseby-case basis.

In terms of popular approval, the American people, probably wisely, are almost always against any kind of military action when they first hear about it, unless our people have been directly attacked. And they have historically felt that way. And obviously at the end of the cold war, they may be more inclined to feel that way.

The job of the President is to try to do what is right, particularly in matters affecting our long-term security interests. And unfortunately, not all of the decisions that are right can be popular. So I don't believe that the President, that I or any other President, could conduct foreign policy by a public opinion poll, and I would hope the American people would not wish me to.

Q. You would grant that you would have to have the support of the people in the long run for any engagement——

President Clinton. Any sustained endeavor involving our military forces requires the support of the people over the long run. We have learned that mostly in good ways and sometimes in sad ways in our country's history.

Q. Mr. President, you and your aides said repeatedly last week there was only one thing about which you would be willing to discuss anything with the leaders in Haiti and that was the modalities, as it was repeatedly called, of their departure. As President Carter has made clear today, it became necessary for him to conduct a somewhat more extensive negotiation. And I just wanted to ask you, sir, what prompted you, what made you decide to change your mind and go along with that?

President Clinton. Well, I think if you look at this agreement, the details of the agreement are consistent with the modalities of their leaving power. What I told President Carter and General Powell and Senator Nunn was—and I think we talked three times each before they went—was that I basically did not care what was discussed as long as there was no attempt to change the timetable of the administration for action or to derail the ultimate possibility of action.

And if the objective of their departure from power was achieved, then, if other things had to be discussed, I did not object to that. In fact, it was obvious to me that one—let me just back off and say, one of the things that will determine whether this United Nations sanction mission, that is, to restore democracy, is successful and one of the things that will determine whether we can do it with a minimum of risk to our people is whether there can be an orderly transfer of power and an orderly retraining of police and military forces, rather than a total collapse of the structures of Haitian society which could cause a much more violent set of activities, perhaps involving us only peripherally. They have avoided that, I think, by the terms of this agreement if it can be implemented, which of course is what I hope will happen.

Q. Did President Carter say something to you that made you decide that it would be well to allow him to conduct a broader discussion? Was that his suggestion, sir?

President Clinton. No, we never—what we discussed, what I said to him was—and I said to each of the three gentlemen—was, "I want you to pledge to me, number one, that the objective is removing them from power; number two, that there will be no attempt to change the timetable that I will set unilaterally for doing so forcibly if we have to; and number three, that there'll be no attempt to derail the possibility of taking that kind of action if it becomes necessary. Beyond that, whatever you feel you should discuss, feel free to discuss it within those three criteria."

Q. President Clinton, there have been a lot of reports that you and President Carter have had some tension in the past, and I wondered if you might comment on that. And in particular, was there a point at which President Carter wanted to go to Haiti and the administration was not ready for him to go at that time? And was there a point when you wanted him to come home and he wasn't ready to come home? And if President Carter would comment on that as well, I'd appreciate it.

President Clinton. The answer to the first question is no, there was not a point where he wanted to go and I didn't want him to go. The answer to the second question is maybe, but not for the reason you think. And let me try to answer what I mean by that.

President Carter and I have discussed Haiti, I think beginning before I became President, on a regular and repeated basis. And he has a deep interest there because, among other things, he's not only been there many times but he and his group monitored the election which resulted in President Aristide's election.

I have also discussed Haiti repeatedly with General Powell, both when he was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in my tenure and after he left office. I have called him at least two and maybe more occasions and said, "I'm tearing my hair out about this problem; what do you think? What about this, that, or the other thing?" And Senator Nunn and I have discussed it before.

When President Carter called me and told me that he had heard from General Cedras, we began to talk about this and about the prospect of a mission. We talked about General Powell, Senator Nunn. I picked up the phone, and I called General Powell and Senator Nunn to find out if they would be willing go there. It wasn't the first item on their list of what they had planned to do last weekend, but they were open. A number of other calls ensued. We had to determine (a) that they would be received and (b) that there was a serious chance of at least affecting this agreement, because there was no agreement in advance by them, by the Haitians, to leave. Once all that was worked out, we decided it was quite a good thing and certainly worth the risk for them to go. Any kind of mission like this is full of risk.

In answer to your second question, there was never a point when I wanted him to leave in the sense that I wanted him to stop talking.

There was a point last evening, as you know, when I became worried that we needed to get them out of there because of the timetable of the mission. In other words, I was just beginning—was concerned about—I wanted them to be safe, I wanted them to be secure, I wanted them to be out of Haiti in a timely fashion. That is the only issue about their leaving.

And the last time we talked, he said, "Well, we're almost there. We've about got this nailed. We're going over to the Presidential Palace." And I said, "Okay, you have 30 more minutes, and then I will have to order you to leave," because I was worried about their personal security. There was no political debate at all. They were making progress. But the time was running out on the hourglass.

Q. Mr. President, President Carter was quoted today as saying that the launching of the first wave came while they were still negotiating peace. And he said that that was very disturbing to us and to them, to the Haitian leaders with whom he was negotiating. Could I ask both of you to comment on that, and whether you felt that the launching of the 82d Airborne was, in fact, interfering with their attempts to negotiate?

President Clinton. I think I'll let him answer that.

Q. Could we ask you to comment?

President Clinton. Yes, I'll be happy to, but I'll let him answer it first.

President Carter. The key to our success, to the extent it is successful, was the inexorability of the entry of the forces into Haiti. And we spent the first hours of discussion with the military leaders to convince them that this was going to happen, it would be with an overwhelming capability, and that the schedule was set and that we had no intention or authority to change the schedule. And it was that inevitability that was a major factor in that decision.

Another one, I should hasten to say, was their quandary about what to do that was right and honorable. Haiti, I think, is perhaps one of the proudest nations I have ever seen because of their long history and because of the turmoil in which they have often lived. And it was very difficult for Haitian military commanders to accept the proposition that foreign forces could come on their soil without their fighting. But we all worked to convince them that this was the best thing to do for their country and for their people.

Now, we recognized the difficulty of this. And we were down to the last stages of negotiating which involved the last date that the military leaders could stay in office. At that time, General Biamby received a report from Fort Bragg, he told us, that the initial operation had already commenced. And they were on the verge of saying, "We will not negotiate anymore; this may be a trick just to keep us occupied, all of us military commanders in the same room while the invasion takes place." We obviously assured them this was not the case. And the thing was about to break down. They finally decided, let's go over to the President's house, the Presidential Palace. President Jonassaint, we have been led to believe—and I believed it ahead of time— was a figurehead. This proved to be absolutely incorrect. When we got to President Jonassaint's office with his ministers sitting in front of him and the commanders of the military in front of him and I sitting next to him and Senator Nunn and General Powell there, he said—very quickly to summarize my answer—"We will take peace instead of war; I will sign this agreement." All of his people in the room disagreed. One of his ministers, a minister of defense, said, "I resign tomorrow." The others belabored the point. But there was no doubt that his decision was what brought about the consummation of the agreement. All the time through this, we were consulting fervently and constantly with President Clinton.

So the inexorability of the force coming in made it possible. There was a setback when we found, to my surprise, that the initial stages had begun; as soon as President Clinton knew that President Jonassaint and I had reached an agreement, so as far as I know, the planes reversed their course.

Q. Mr. President, can you comment on that?

President Clinton. Yes.

Q. Did he ask you why they had taken off and asked you to turn them back?

President Clinton. No. No, when they went, I told them that we needed to conclude the negotiations by 12 o'clock Sunday. Then I said, but they could clearly stay until 3. And then the thing kept getting put back. They were very dogged; they didn't want to give up.

I frankly had come to the conclusion that we were not going to reach an agreement. What I—and let me say, there had never been a plan to have them talking while American planes were flying. That was never a plan. The inference—because I wanted them out of there, I wanted them safe. And I think President Carter has made it clear what—to the extent that it was disrupted, it was because they thought the whole thing maybe had been pointless, a ruse.

To the extent it was helpful, it was the final evidence that President Jonassaint needed to push the agreements. But it was one of those things that happened. It was not a thing that we calculated, because I would never have put the lives of these three men in any kind of jeopardy. They were just determined to stay until the last moment. And they had, literally, when they reached that agreement, they had 30 more minutes before I—I told President Carter, I said, "This is uncomfortable for me; we've been friends a long time; I'm going to have to order you out of there in 30 more minutes. You have got to get out." They had to get out before dark. So they worked it out.

Press Secretary Myers. Last question.

Q. Mr. President, there still is this very sensitive issue, as you well know, involving the socalled status of exile for Generals Biamby and Cedras. They maintain that there is no commitment, no need, and that they don't want to leave their country forever. Now, a senior administration official last night suggested that while there is no formal commitment, the U.S. anticipates that they will leave once President Aristide returns and they do receive amnesty. What exactly do you believe will happen?

President Clinton. First, let me say that our objective is twofold as a part of restoring democracy and President Aristide. The first was to have them step down. The second is to retrain and to help professionalize the army and the police forces so that they can never be either a participant in or a bystander while gross human rights violations occur, and so that they can help to secure the country and preserve order.

It has been our feeling that that was the most important thing. And, therefore, that was not an issue that I was ready to let this mission founder on, as long as they could achieve that. I think they should leave, and I think they probably will leave at some point. But that is something that still has to be worked out and something that subsequent actions by all the actors in the Haitian drama will have to be heavily relied upon.

General Powell made a comment to me— he might want to comment about this because I think it's very important that we not let this issue cloud the enormity of what has occurred and the practicality of what is likely to occur.

General Powell. I'd just like to add to that, that I am very pleased this morning—the thing I was looking for, would General Cedras be cooperating with General Shelton for real—signing an agreement last night was one thing, but what would happen today—he is cooperating. And so the transition of power has begun. And sometime over the next month or so, either as a result of parliamentary action or the October 15th date arriving, General Cedras will step down, having done what I believe is the right and honorable thing in these circumstances.

It will remain an issue for President Aristide and General Cedras and others to consider where he should go or what he should do. But I don't think we need to spend a lot of time on that at this point. Let that flow out, and we will see what happens. He is stepping down from power, which I think is the important point.

Q. Last week you told America that these people treated their own people shamefully, that they've massacred them and raped them and tortured them and did all these frightful things. And now, all of a sudden, we've appealed to their military honor. I wonder how you detected that, and they're our partners and presumably our friends. It's a little abrupt——

President Clinton. No, that's not accurate. But we did say—I did say last week that they had one last chance to effect a peaceful transfer of power. And you know, when you've got a country deeply divided, I mean, think of the things which have happened in South Africa when reconciliation was possible.

Remember what President Aristide himself said when he came here—after I spoke—the next day—he said, "We have to say no to violence, no to vengeance, yes to reconciliation." What this delegation did, and all this delegation did, was to give these people the chance to do something that is, to use their words, was right and honorable and to do it in a peaceful way and to have a peaceful transfer of power. And I think that was an appropriate thing to do. In terms of the amnesty issue, I would remind you that was an issue raised and agreed to by all the parties in Governors Island. So that is something that has been on the board for quite a long while now.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President's 70th news conference began at 12:02 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

William J. Clinton, The President's News Conference With President Jimmy Carter, General Colin Powell, and Senator Sam Nunn on Haiti Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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