Clinton opts to wait a bit on Haiti assault deadline

September 08, 1994|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton conducted an exhaustive review of U.S. military plans for an invasion to oust Haiti's military rulers yesterday but held off on setting a deadline for them to leave voluntarily, officials said.

The review "certainly puts the president and the chief decision-makers at an advanced stage of the process," a senior White House official said afterward.

"We're at a stage where decisions can be quickly made."

Mr. Clinton held a 2 1/2 -hour meeting with his national security advisers on U.S. policy toward Haiti and Cuba almost as soon as he returned to the White House from his vacation on Martha's Vineyard. He is due to consult with congressional leaders about his policy toward Haiti "very soon, in a matter of days," said the senior official.

"No decision was made to forcibly intervene," the official said, adding that "a deadline has not been set."

While some officials have been pushing for Mr. Clinton to set a deadline for Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and other military leaders to depart, the president held off, apparently at the urging of the Pentagon. One official outside the Pentagon said Defense Secretary William J. Perry is known to oppose deadlines because they tend to restrict military flexibility.

Another drawback is that a deadline set far in advance would have the effect of "freezing the ball," easing the immediate pressure on the Haitian junta, while one set very soon would leave the president little time to build up public support, this official said.

But administration officials indicated that the United States remains on course to lead an invasion of Haiti to oust the de facto leadership or to occupy the impoverished nation to restore stability if the leaders depart voluntarily.

"They are on a sequence that's moving forward and that's defined in Resolution 940," said a senior administration official, referring to the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing an invasion to restore the democratically elected president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Earlier yesterday, Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher warned that Haiti's military leaders must step down voluntarily or be forced out by a U.S.-led invasion.

"One way or the other, the de facto government is going to be leaving," Mr. Christopher told reporters during a joint news conference with South Korea's foreign minister.

"Their days are definitely numbered."

If the Haitian leadership remains in power, the United States plans to launch an invasion with more than 10,000 troops and modest Caribbean, British and Argentine help to oust them.

The U.S.-led force would move in to pave the way for a U.N. force intended to begin rebuilding the nation.

Representatives of the United States, France, Argentina and Canada met with U.N. officials in New York yesterday to work on contingency plans for the second-phase U.N. force.

After Mr. Clinton's review of his Cuba policy at yesterday's meeting, the senior White House official expressed confidence that the United States would reach an agreement with Fidel Castro to limit the migration of Cuban refugees. The United States is prepared to commit itself to receive at least 27,000 Cuban refugees annually.

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