THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO COLUMNISTS
The Roosevelt Room
12:02 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you for coming in, I'm glad to see you. I wanted to make three quick points. One is, we had a detailed briefing this morning from General Shalikashvili, and I feel good about the extraordinary work and preparation that our military leaders have done. Second, we're up to 24 nations now participating in the coalition, and I feel very good about that. I think there will be more; I think we'll have more before very long.
And the third thing that I want to say is, I've seen a copy of the remarks that President Aristide is going to deliver today, and I'm pleased with that. I think it is very important, in light of all the things that have occurred from the time he was elected forward, that this message of reconciliation be genuine, sincere and straightforward. And I think it will be, and I feel good about that.
And I know some of you have been somewhat skeptical of that. And I would remind you that there's one event which has occurred in recent times which I think will reinforce it, and that is the meeting in Paris which got together the proposed aide package for Haiti to create the economic opportunity for the Haitians, which I think is clearly premised on the right sort of spirit of going forward down there, and the whole promise of reconciliation being realized. So I feel good about it. And Admiral Miller's done a marvelous job. I thank you, sir, for what you've done.
Anyway, I didn't mean to interrupt the briefing. (Laughter.) -- seen so many -- (Laughter.)
Q Are you nervous?
THE PRESIDENT: Am I nervous? No, I feel good about it. I don't know if good is the right word. I think the policy is right and I think I have done the best I could to present it to the American people and we have done the best we could to prepare. And I have enormous confidence in the work that others have done. I think they have done the best they could.
We don't -- free world, and there are risks associated with anything we did or didn't do. But I think we're doing the right thing, and I think we have the right people doing the right thing. That's all I could ever ask for. And I've made the decision, so if it doesn't go right, I'm responsible.
Q Secretary Christopher says that he expects more public support and more support on the Hill now, Mr. President. Do you expect to get fairly strong support in Congress now?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know, I can't answer that. I hope so. But he may know more about it than I do. I just -- all I can tell you is I've done the very best I could and I hope they'll be supportive for it. I'm encouraged by the indications that the American people are more supportive.
I think -- my sense is that the important things to a lot of Americans about last night were, first of all, I think, more and more are learning about the human rights abuses and how that reinforces the arguments we made about immigration and democracy. But I think most of the people are focused on that.
But the two things I think that a lot of Americans got last night from an informational point of view were one, the extraordinary efforts we have made in the diplomatic area and the patience we've shown and the rebuffs we've received over a long period of time; and two, I think a lot of Americans had forgotten about the Governors Island Agreement and that it was broken. And most Americans think when you make a deal with this country, you ought to keep it.
And so I feel -- all I can tell you is I feel good about it.
Q Why did you wait so long to make your case to the American people?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I've been talking about this all along, you know. I waited so long to make an Oval Office address because you can only make -- I mean, it's only appropriate to make one Oval Office address on a subject like this. And we have done the best we could. We exhausted all other alternatives. I thought this was the right time. I did the best I could with it.
Q Mr. President, before you leave, can I just report one thing to you? Yesterday I was at Fort Drum* up in New York, that's the tenth --. And one of the commanders mentioned a battalion of troops are going to be involved. There was 50-some that could leave the army before the projected time was up, and 21 of them said, we want to stay.
So, that shows, you know, support from the uniformed side, from the practitioner, the youngster. They want to be there, and that's what the call to duty was. I just wanted to mention that.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.
Two young men -- when we were in Berlin a few months ago, and cased the colors of the Berlin Brigade, and I met with some of the young fellows there, two of them asked me to please delay any action in Haiti until they got home so they could go. (Laughter.) That's very rewarding. Thank you, sir. Goodbye.
END12:10 P.M. EDT