Clinton threatens Haiti

May 04, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, speaking emotionally about the "abject misery" being inflicted on the people of Haiti by its military government, held out the threat last night of dispatching U.S. troops to that impoverished and violent Caribbean nation.

"We cannot afford to discount the prospect of a military option," Mr. Clinton said at a news conference for international journalists in Atlanta.

"We have not decided to use force. All I've said is that we cannot rule it out any more."

"Innocent civilians are being killed and mutilated," he added. "It is wrong. We have got to do what we can to stop it."

Mr. Clinton's remarks were televised around the world on Cable News Network from the Carter Center and Presidential Library in Atlanta at a live, 90-minute "global forum" in which Mr. Clinton took questions from international journalists, some of whom spoke by satellite from four cities around the world.

Seeking to alter his image as a president who is floundering on foreign policy, Mr. Clinton outlined what he termed America's "road map" on foreign policy. He divided his own goals into three broad areas:

* Making sure America's defenses are ready to fight at least two major regional conflicts at once -- and reducing the arsenals of less stable nations.

* Integrating trade and international economic issues into foreign policy decisions.

* Promoting democracy abroad.

Defending himself against suggestions that he is indecisive, he conceded that these "building blocks" are not the answer to every crisis the United States -- and the world -- confronts. He used as examples, the intractable fighting in Bosnia and the ethnic slaughter in Rwanda.

The best example of how noble intentions don't always produce the intended results, the president suggested, may be in Haiti.

Ambassador Lawrence A. Pezzullo, who left his State Department position as the administration's top Haiti adviser last week, has said any invasion of Haiti would be "an act of great folly" that would leave the United States having to run Haiti's police and judicial system -- and with no clear way to get out if it is successful.

But hours before the news conference, Mr. Clinton revealed his frustration at being unable so far to restore exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.

Asked if his patience was running out, Mr. Clinton said: "I think it is run out. Maybe we've let it run on a bit too long."

But some of the president's questioners wondered aloud if Mr. Clinton's words on Haiti -- and his failure to back them up so far -- have not only emboldened that nation's military rulers, but others the United States is at odds with, including the Bosnian Serbs and North Korea.

Mr. Pezzullo made the same point in resigning, expressing exasperation that the White House seems unwilling to stick with its policies when opposition arises. When 18 Army Rangers were killed in Somalia pursuing warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, the response of the Clinton administration was to quit trying to arrest him -- and to announce the imminent withdrawal of the U.S. troops.

In Bosnia, Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher warned a year ago that "the clock is ticking" on Bosnian Serb aggression, but the aggression, "ethnic cleansing" and the taking of territory continued.

In North Korea, Mr. Clinton initially said it was unacceptable for that nation to build nuclear weapons, but since then administration officials have made a series of less absolute statements.

Last night, when asked by CNN moderator Judy Woodruff if he was saying the United States would go "to war" over North Korea's nuclear buildup, Mr. Clinton instead appealed to North Korea not to turn its back on the community of nations.

One journalist asked Mr. Clinton if he thought the criticism of his foreign policy had been unfair.

He said he had no quarrel with the news media, whose job it "is tocriticize whoever is in power." But he said that he thought his administration hadn't gotten enough credit for the issues it had handled smoothly.

Finally, he said that some of these problems -- he singled out Haiti and Bosnia -- are extremely difficult to manage.

"We've tried to work through these problem, but not all problems have easy solutions," he said, adding that his policies were not "unprincipled or vacillating."

Mr. Clinton spoke unhaltingly about politics in South Africa, human rights in China and the formidable hurdles of the Mideast peace process.

But his temper managed to come through. Asked by veteran CNN war correspondent Christiane Amanpour about "the constant flip-flops of your administration in Bosnia," the president bristled.

"There have been no constant flip-flops, madam," the president spat out.

On the final question, however, while answering the question aboutfairness, the president sounded more philosophical.

Seeming to remember Ms. Amanpour in mid-sentence, the president softened his tone, and as CNN brought her face on the screen, he complimented her for her brave reporting from Sarajevo and said he expected to be criticized on his Bosnia policy "because that poor woman has seen the horrors of this war."

"I do not blame her for being mad at me . . . but I'm doing the best I can with this problem from my perspective."

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