House may set March 1 as tentative deadline for withdrawal from Haiti U.S. INTERVENTION IN HAITI

September 28, 1994|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- A skeptical House appears likely to set at least a tentative deadline for the withdrawal of the U.S.-led occupation of Haiti -- perhaps March 1 -- despite warnings from the Clinton administration that any date could provoke violence.

The first full-scale congressional hearing since U.S. forces landed in Haiti last week showed that neither the peaceful entry nor the near-absence of U.S. casualties had dispelled deep congressional misgivings about the operation.

The absence of danger to U.S. forces may have given some members greater license to criticize instead of coalescing behind President Clinton as commander-in-chief.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will take up a measure today that would set a March 1 deadline for congressional authorization of the Haiti operation.

The committee chairman, Lee H. Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat, noted that Congress could always vote later to continue paying for the operation if circumstances change.

Testifying at the hearing, Deputy Defense Secretary John Deutch said that a legislated time limit would deprive commanders of flexibility and discourage other countries from joining the U.S.-led forces.

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who also testified, said that a specific deadline "would provide a very unwelcome incentive to forces in Haiti who do not want to see the United Nations mission deployed to stage a violent provocation of some kind."

U.N. peacekeepers will come and assume responsibility for the mission only after it is assured that Haiti is stable.

Mr. Deutch said the United States will likely begin scaling back its forces next month and turn the operation over to the United Nations "within less than six months," or about the time of the committee's expected deadline.

But Mr. Talbott added that the duration of the U.S.-led phase "will depend on the conditions on the ground."

"We're a week into this, and we're encouraged by what we see," he added.

Administration officials may not have helped themselves with their uncertainty about cost and vagueness about the timing for turning the mission over to the United Nations.

Some Democrats expressed praise, ranging from faint to heartfelt.

"The way things have worked, the administration deserves a great deal of credit," said Rep. Howard L. Berman of California. "I can't believe a large number of our colleagues want to see us turn tail tomorrow and pull out."

Rep. James L. Oberstar of Minnesota, a one-time teacher of English in Haiti who speaks Creole and supported an invasion for months, said freedom had been restored in Haiti, and "I don't want to let it slip from our grasp."

But Rep. Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey, who is a critic of the intervention, said,"The United States is occupying a foreign government, a foreign country, without this Congress ever having made a judgment and against the overwhelming sentiment of the American people. Tying the hands of the president is what shared constitutional responsibilities are all about."

Republican criticism ranged from mild, voicing fear of "mission creep" -- an expansion of the troops' role -- to outright hostile.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, a Republican of New Jersey, questioned whether politics had driven the invasion.

His Republican colleague Donald Manzullo of Illinois described the exiled Haitian president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom the United States intends to restore, as "a lover of [Ernesto] Che Guevara," the Cuban Communist revolutionary, and charged, "The United States is engaged in voodoo diplomacy."

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