THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Naples, Italy)
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL July 8, 1994 The Briefing Room
7:50 P.M. (L)
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: I thought it might be most efficient. You all seemed kind of interested after the press conference, and I thought if you want to take just a few minutes if you have any more questions and, specifically, the question you were all asking me about whether we -- let me say first I would like to be an AMERICAN OFFICIAL.
Q How about a senior American official? It sounds much better for our editors.
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Senior American Official. We have been checking with Washington and have, so far, found no evidence of abusive behavior by any American official in Panama is the answer to your question. But we don't want to get into a -- argument with the Panamanian government and it is up to them to explain their decision.
Q What was Endara's conversation with the President like only few days ago? Was there any hint --
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: He was very friendly and the President expressed his appreciation for their agreement to allow us to use Panama for a safe haven.
Q How did you phrase the request to him? What was the context of it? Was it brought up as a favor or in the atmosphere of duty, how was he approached?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: I'd say that it was as much their volunteering to do this as our initially going to --
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: I'm trying to remember. You'd have to get that in Washington.
Q So it was their idea?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Almost. As I said it was as much their volunteering as our -- initially -- and, again, you would have to -- we've been on the flight but we were informed that they were offering this and the President called in effect to -- (inaudible.)
Q Who told you that they were offering?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: I think our embassy made the initial --
Q Do you agree with other senior officials that the only reason for this was that there was just too much backlash within Panama?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Let me go deeper on background here, okay, if I may.
Q How deeper?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: It's just to say -- I just don't want an American official with the President characterizing their views, okay.
But, absolutely, was our impression. Our impression is that Endara did encounter a very, very strong domestic backlash and took this decision.
Q Can you tell us any more about what form that took?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Again, on deep background so you're not quoting American officials?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: I think the problem was this. The main backlash took place within his own party and, therefore, he was very worried about losing control of the issue in the Parliament. And was then concerned that the incoming government, opposing party, would use it simply to embarrass him -- (inaudible.)
Q What is your feel for what is happening within Haiti in terms of the junior officers and any instability among the leaders?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: -- (inaudible.)
Q But is there foment there?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: There are signs of ferment within the armed forces. Nothing so tangible as to be able to give you --
Q The President said to Ruth, "I think the conduct of the --
Q What was the end of that? Nothing so tangible as to?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: As to say that anything's about to happen.
Q "I think the conduct of the military leaders will have more than anything else to do with what options are considered when and their conduct is not been good." Is he shortening the time frame with the press of refugees?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: What are you saying is another way of saying that the responsibility for what is happening is the responsibility of the military in Port au Prince.
Q But the question is what is happening? In other words, we've all been talking among ourselves and we're not clear on exactly sort of how bellicose or not to read this statement. When you take their responsibility for what options are considered and they're behavior has not been good, the syllogism would go --
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: For your guidance I would say that that is more a strong statement of the general point that it is their responsibility than saying -- I would not take that in terms of a timetable exactly.
Q But given the fact that you now aren't going to try to expand Gitmo and you don't have that much capacity elsewhere on line --
Q You're starting to get it, that's going to be tricky.
Q And Turks and Caicos some people said was a little shaky also.
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: That's not a good rumor.
Q That's not what you're hearing?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: No.
Q Is there a point where the refugee flow creates the pressure for military action?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Certainly the refugee flow makes the problem a lot more difficult but the President outlines today a lot of American interests that are stake including the refugee -- (inaudible.)
Q That adds up to a lot of reasons to go in.
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: That's also a lot of reasons to keep pushing on the sanctions. I think there are signs that the sanctions are having an effect.
I think you all are looking for some sort of datecertain on all of this and that's not where we are.
Q You're telling us that the decision that the Panamanians took and the outflow of refugees has not made military action more likely and has not accelerated the timetable --
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: What Bill said is that it makes the situation -- I've forgotten the exact words he used -- they were similar to what I just said that it makes the situation more difficult. But that is not the only interest at stake here.
Q I thought he said intervention more likely, but my mind is so mushy.
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: (Inaudible.)
Q That's not the only interest at stake, you mean stemming the flow of refugees?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: The refugees is an interest, the situation within Haiti.
Q But those things even reinforce?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: No, that's true. But the sanctions -- there are also increasing signs that the sanctions are working.
Q How? Give me a sign, a good sign?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: As we were saying, increasing signs of ferment within the military, increasing signs of division among the military, the refugee -- (inaudible.)
Q Can you tell us who spoke to Endara? The Vice President did.
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: The Vice President spoke to him yesterday.
Q And who from the National Security Council spoke with him?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Earlier Eric Schwartz had gone together with Jim Dobbins.
Brit, I'm not hiding something here, I'm telling you where we are.
Q Just one other question. Is there anything tangible that you expect to do as far as withdrawing aid and not recommending aid for Panama or anything like that in response to this?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: We're in the process of talking to them.
Q What do you mean?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Still engaged in talking to them about the whole issue.
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q Are they going to be punished?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: And I'm not giving you an answer.
Q But you're -- (inaudible) -- considering it?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: No. What I'm saying is that we are still engaged with them on this issue.
Q You're holding out hope you can patch this together and actually get them to change their minds?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: That's going farther but let's see where we come out.
Q Can you state it assertively so we know where it does stand?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: I don't want to say that we think we can turn the whole decision around but we are continuing to discuss the issue of safe haven with them and let's see where it comes out.
Q Endara did not sound last night as if that was in any way a possibility.
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: I wouldn't hold out a lot of --
Q So, they just say screw you and we say okay?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: You didn't hear me say that.
Q We set this guy up.
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: We were very, very disappointed in what they did.
Q That's right. Bad boy.
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: I'm not going to -- if you can hear I'm not going to talk to you about --
Q What do they get from us a year?
Q Eleven million dollars.
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: I think it's less than that.
Q It was $11 million in 1994 according to our researchers.
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: I got $6 million.
Q What was your figure?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: About $6 million in economic assistance.
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Not that I know of.
Q What's in the budget for next year?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: You should check with Washington if you want that.
Q Endara said that the Americans suddenly started talking about multiple sites. Is he right on that? Endara said that you were initially talking about one site, an island, and suddenly the Americans started again talking about several sites.
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: From the start we were talking about both bases and island.
Q Are you going back and forth on that?
SENIOR AMERICAN OFFICIAL: There was not a shift in that, no.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END8:00 P.M. (L)