U.S. puts Haiti policy into reverse

March 27, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Stung by criticism from Congress and human-rights groups that its Haiti policy has reached a dead end, the Clinton administration is reversing itself and will focus on wringing concessions from the Haitian military rather than from the exiled president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In an effort to increase the chances of restoring democracy and forcing Haiti's military leaders to step down, administration officials say the United States plans steps that include tightening the trade embargo on Haiti and jettisoning a U.S.-backed plan that Father Aristide had rejected because it called on him to make concessions without providing assurances that Haiti's military would cede power.

The new policy, which administration officials described Friday in meetings with Father Aristide and members of Congress, aims to win the Haitian leader's backing by bringing U.S. positions closer to his and by not requiring him to make wholesale concessions until the military cedes power.

Under the new plan, three important steps would take place on the same day: the military leaders would step down, Haiti's Parliament would confirm a new prime minister named by Father Aristide, and a law granting amnesty to the military leaders who overthrew him in September 1991 would be enacted.

Administration officials acknowledge that Haiti's military has not accepted the plan, but they voice confidence that tightening the embargo could put pressure on Haiti's military leader, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, to accept it.

To tighten the embargo, administration officials said, they would try to compel the Dominican Republic to cooperate more, especially by cracking down on the smuggling of fuel across its border with Haiti.

In addition, administration officials said that unless Haiti's military agrees to the new plan, the United States will press the United Nations Security Council to approve a tougher, mandatory embargo to replace the current voluntary one.

The current embargo applies to fuel and arms, but a tighter embargo would cover everything but items such as food and medicine.

The Clinton administration has not formally announced the policy changes, partly because it is still putting on the finishing touches.

But Vice President Al Gore described the new policy to Father Aristide at a White House meeting Friday. Haiti's ambassador to the United States, Jean Casimir, who attended the meeting, said Father Aristide was still studying the proposal.

Father Aristide's advisers continue to disagree with the administration over what happens to the military leaders when they step down. The Aristide forces want General Cedras, Port-au-Prince's powerful police chief, Michel Francois, and the military high command to give up all power or leave Haiti altogether.

But the Clinton administration's plan does not call for a housecleaning of the military, a move that Aristide supporters say is vital to end the repression on the island.

The policy changes respond to critics of the administration's Haiti policy who have said that it has not pushed the embargo hard enough and that it has threatened to leave Father Aristide out in the cold if he does not do what the administration wanted.

In recent weeks, the United States has held back from pressing for stronger sanctions against Haiti in the hope that Father Aristide would make concessions.

Some congressional critics of the administration's Haiti policy praised the recent changes.

"The other effort was not greeted terribly warmly either by President Aristide or the military," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs.

"It became sort of a non-starter. I'm impressed with this new proposal. It depends on a lot of Haitians agreeing to it, but if they do, it would be wonderful."

Over the past week, the administration also has been targeted by an advertising campaign by black, Jewish and Hollywood organizations over his policy of returning Haitian refugees.

On Friday, the Haitian government refused entry of a French ship carrying 500 tons of food and clothing. It contended that help from the leaders of a worldwide oil embargo on Haiti is an insult.

The ship remained offshore yesterday. French officials in Port-au-Prince said if the army does not provide guarantees for the ship's safety, it will depart from Haiti.

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