THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
September 16, 1994
The Briefing Room
5:42 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We will now have a background session. Thank you.
Q Explain what the framework is.
Q When are they going, and did Cedras request it?
Q Could you explain what the framework is?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As soon as we are on background and we have reasons for it. We will, okay?
Q? When are they going, and did Cedras request it, and when were they asked?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me make a few points on background, if I may now, about this.
Q Why did Mr. Berger say only two hours ago that no such thing was contemplated?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. First, please, please. Let me first say that this is practically a real-time event. These arrangements, this agreement was just reached. We have been saying for some days now, first of all, that we are prepared to discuss with the de facto Haitian leadership the means of their leaving, and that President Clinton wished to pursue every possible alternative that would allow them to leave without bloodshed. And this discussion is in that context. No policy, nothing has changed since the President's statement last night.
Let me emphasize that -- and I'll come back to discuss the last few days' events which will show that. Nothing in this changes, either the urgency of the situation or the timetable of our military preparations. As I said -- and let me emphasize it again -- our purpose is discussions only of the means of their departure.
Finally, the details of their trip are still being discussed. They have not been worked out. I would anticipate that they would be going down within 24 hours. We have not yet established when or precisely with whom they will be meeting, but we do expect it will be with the leadership.
Q What makes you think that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry?
Q What makes you think they'll be received?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They have been told that they will be received -- by the Haitian leadership.
Q Did Cedras request it? Was this meeting requested by the opponents of the -- by the military regime?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Former President Carter has been in touch for some time with General Cedras, and this emerged out of those discussions. President Clinton has spoken with Senator Nunn, with Colin Powell and with former President Carter, at least twice each, over the last day or two pursuing this. Again, we have said for some days now that we were prepared to enter into discussions with the de facto leadership about the means of their departure. And I think I can say that a number of avenues were pursued, and this is the avenue that we will now be pursuing.
Q Does this indicate -- is there some indication from the leadership down there that they are at this point looking to make some sort of deal to get out?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It would be wrong to assume, I think, that they are hereby saying that. But there can be no doubt that they understand what our policy is. And our policy, as enunciated by the President a number of times now, is that we are prepared to discuss the means of their departure. And that is all that we are prepared to discuss.
Q Did President Carter indicate it could be a fruitful discussion with Cedras and so forth?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, of course, we hope that it will be a fruitful discussion. The discussions need to take place before anybody can know that.
Q But did President Carter indicate to you that it could be fruitful if he went down there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You have to assume when you enter into any discussion that it could be fruitful. I think at this stage to be either optimistic or pessimistic would be wrong. You simply pursue the option and see what happens.
Q You wouldn't invade while they're there, would you?
Q Has there been any communication from Cedras to Carter about this mission since the President's speech? Or was this in the works before the President went on the air last night? In other words, is there any way that we should interpret this as a Cedras response, an openness or willingness to see Carter --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we can't know that.
Q When did you know that he'd be willing to receive you?
Q Exactly. When did you know that Cedras was willing to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, as I said, just this afternoon. This is --
Q Just this -- so there was communication since the President's speech?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Oh, yes.
Q There was never communication --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And, again, let me emphasize that that is why we have come to you very quickly after working this through -- and this was put together this afternoon.
Q? When was the prospect of Mr. Carter and the others going proposed to Cedras?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's been a possibility for a couple of days now, I would say.
Q So it's fair to say it's been before him for a couple days, you've been awaiting an answer and you got it today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, there have been, I think, a couple of conversations between President Carter and either Cedras or other members of the leadership over the last couple of days.
Q We've been told by every person in this administration for three days that we would have no discussions with Cedras until he said he was willing to discuss leaving, one -- and that's the only thing we would talk about.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I just said --
Q Now, one, why does it take a delegation of this level to talk about getting on a plane and going, why should we not assume these talks will go into further things, and why do we not think that the President has not just blinked?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm glad you asked me that, actually. Let me repeat what I just said, because it is deadly serious: No timetable has changed. The urgency of the situation has not changed. Administration officials and President Aristide today said that this is a question of days. So it is flatly and absolutely the case that this does not alter the timetable in the slightest. Okay? No, it does not.
Q You're not going to invade while Jimmy Carter and Colin Powell and Sam Nunn are still in negotiations with the Haitian leaders.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Our military preparations are continuing on exactly the same timetable that they were before.
Q Well, you wouldn't go in while they're there, would you? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is a very --this is a very urgent situation and they will conduct very urgent discussions.
Q When do you expect them to be back?
Q Did you answer the question of why you do not -- why it takes a three-person major delegation to negotiate the modalities of departure, since we've been told all along, this is a simple thing; all they have to do is get on a plane and leave?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually the way in which they would depart is not a simple thing. There are a lot of issues involved in the manner of their departure, which I would prefer not to go into, because we need to discuss it with them. And, clearly, this delegation offers them the means that they preferred to carry out these discussions. And I think we should welcome that.
Q When will they be back? When will the delegation return?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't give you a date for that, but I can tell you, again, that this is an urgent situation.
Q You have explained why Jimmy Carter is part of the group. Can you tell us how Colin Powell and Sam Nunn came to be the others who are included?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't give you the exact sequence of it, but there were a series of conversations among the President, President Carter, Senator Nunn, and General Powell. And General Powell and Senator Nunn and President Carter had been discussing this among themselves as well over the last 48 hours or so.
Q Did they indicate that these were people who were acceptable to meet with them in particular? In other words, were these singled out by Cedras and the other leaders?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry?
Q Were these three names -- well, were Sam Nunn and Colin Powell -- you said that there had been discussions between Cedras and Carter, but not --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Cedras had been in touch with Carter, and then Nunn and Powell were names that were suggested to the Haitians.
Q By Cedras --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, to the Haitians.
Q Would they be carrying a different message?
Q Who recommended Nunn and Powell?
Q Yes, can you clarify? Did the President personally choose them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This was, I think, worked through jointly by the President and President Carter. But let me emphasize that the President has discussed Haiti and other issues many times, both with Senator Nunn and with General Powell.
Q Could you clarify also why a representative from the NSC is going and a member of the Joint Staff? And also, will they be flying in a U.S. military plane? Or how are they getting down there? Are they leaving Washington?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I anticipate they will be flying on a government aircraft. And we thought it was important that there be American officials with them who can assist in discussing what could be a number of details that would require their presence.
Q Do you see this as forward movement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I do. Of course. And let me explain that one more time, okay? Because it is very important that you understand this.
Our policy, throughout, has been that they must leave. We have always said that we were prepared to discuss with them the manner of their leaving. It is the responsibility of the President, in fact, to pursue every possible alternative that could produce a solution in which they leave without bloodshed. This presents such an opportunity, and it would be irresponsible not to pursue it.
This does not alter by one minute or one second the timetable of our military preparations, our preparedness to act, or the urgency of the situation in general. The President said last night that their time is up, and I am saying to you that their is time up. We are discussing how to resolve this without bloodshed.
Q You said that it would be wrong to assume that they have agreed at this point to leave. This suggests that having assembled this powerful armada, having called up the reserves, we are letting them dictate the terms of their departure.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we're not. We're going down to discuss their departure. We have always said that what matters is their departure, not the manner of the departure. Review our statements. We have never said anything otherwise. And this offer is an opportunity, again, to achieve their departure without bloodshed. It is inconceivable to me that anyone would argue that refusing to seek a way to gain their departure in an urgent situation --
Q You cannot say that they've signified a readiness to go, can you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They understand very well what our policy is.
Q Have you set a time limit on these talks? In other words, if these talks drag on and you don't get signals, will you cut them off and proceed with --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These talks will not drag on.
Q Have you set a time limit? What is your understanding with President Carter?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: President Carter understands very clearly that these talks will not drag on, and they must be completed before, obviously, we launch a military operation.
Q What do envision the time period. A week? A day?
Q Would you give them months to depart?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Andrea, my quandary is that I cannot give you a deadline for the talks without getting into military issues.
Q Would you give them a deadline --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As much as I like to share, that is not something that I can share here. Helen, please.
Q Can we assume --
Q Dee Dee, we have a lot of questions. Why can't we stay for a minute?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll stay for a minute. It's okay. I'm having fun, they're having fun with this --
Q I have two things: First of all, you said it would be premature to say they have, by this, agreed to go, but have they given any solid indication that their departure will, in fact, be on their agenda from what they want to talk about. And the second thing is, do any of these three gentlemen -- all of them or two of them, or any one of them support the administrations policy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We -- they are all very clearly prepared to conduct these discussions within the context of the Administration's policy.
Q But do they support it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And --
Q Have they told you whether or not they do?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What is relevant here is what they will say to the Haitian leaders, and that we have gone over with them and they are very well satisfied.
Q You don't think there is any possibility of mixed messages being sent by people who don't necessarily support your policy.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. We have discussed what they will be discussing.
Q On the other question, is there any assurance from the Haitian side that their departure is on the agenda that they contemplate for these talks?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think they know very well what our policy is.
Q Will Nunn and Powell be bringing more of a sort of military-type message, something to the effect of look at what's arrayed against you? They're two military-oriented people.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that they will, I'm sure, point out the situation in which the de facto --
Q Is President Carter --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think they all will. I know they will.
Q The end result --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The military message is on the screens every evening. In the back.
Q Senator Nunn had suggested that there should be some new way that Cedras could leave. He should leave. Then there should be Parliamentary elections and after that then Mr. Aristide should return. Is it -- could that sort of thing be on the table at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. We are discussing in an urgent situation the manner of their departure.
Q Can I also ask you -- was this President Carter's volunteer effort, or did the President think of this to ask the President?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I said, the -- President Carter had been in touch with General Cedras, informed the President of that and then has emerged from it.
Q When did Presidents Carter and Clinton first talk about this mission? And how did they come to decide on Nunn and Powell as --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'd say over the last 48 hours.
Q Can you be more precise about that? When did this first emerge as a strong possibility? The day before yesterday? Wednesday?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Time passes so quickly when you're having as much fun as I've had over the last 72 hours. All I can tell you -- I'm sorry, I'd have to sit down and look at it. I'd say over the last two or three days.
Q We don't quite understand exactly how this happened.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I just said over the last two or three days.
Q Carter calls Clinton and says, hey, I've been talking to Cedras and I'm trying to get him to leave and I'll be in touch. And three days later, three hours later, he's calls back and says --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, no, as I said -- two things that are relevant here -- one, that President Clinton has had at least a couple of conversations over the last 24 to 36 hours with Carter, with Nunn and with Powell. I've had three or four conversations with President Carter, also.
I should add -- the President, throughout this, has been consulting with Secretary Christopher, Perry, General Shali, et cetera. Meanwhile, we are discussing other possible channels of communication with the leadership in Haiti. This is the one which has been established, and we are very happy about it because we think that these three Americans can very strongly present the view that they should depart, but that we are prepared to discuss with them the manner of their departure; because the issue is their removal from power, as we have said repeatedly.
Q Did Cedras really give the green light for this discussion? It wouldn't happen unless he had said, come come to Port au Prince, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, of course. He's agreed. He agreed, though --
Q He is the one who said please come.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, today. Today, to Carter.
Q Is the delegation authorized to offer any U.S. funds as part of some kind of golden parachute to them? Is there any authorization of U.S. funds to assist them in getting settled elsewhere?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that they -- there will be a number of details discussed, but I would not anticipate that that would be a major issue. Our impression is that they have funds available.
Q Did the consultations with Shali and Christopher and yourself constitute government permission for these talks with Cedras, or was he acting as a private citizen on his own?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You mean Carter?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: His conversations -- oh, I see what you mean -- his conversations --
Q At what point was it authorized and not perhaps a private negotiation?
Q Give him a break. Say the President called him.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Today. Today. No, that's not true, no.
Q So he's been acting as a private citizen up until today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He's been, yes, talking about the issue with Cedras and informing us of those discussions as a private citizen.
Q And does that keep him in the clear as far as outside private negotiation, Logan Act type stuff?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, he was not negotiating with them, he was talking to them.
Q Violating the Logan Act?
Q? Would it be fair, then, to describe this mission as Jimmy Carter's idea and not President Clinton's?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. It would not be fair to describe it that way. Okay, I'm almost going to behave myself here. It would not be fair to describe it that way because, as I said, we have said repeatedly that we were prepared to enter into discussions with them the manner of their leaving, right? And we have, as I said, explored a number of possibilities for those discussions, and Carter informed us -- President Carter informed us of his contacts with Cedras, and we have pursued it with him and brought it to a conclusion.
And again, I emphasize with President Carter is Senator Nunn, our Senator Nunn and General Powell.
Q And you can assure us that the results of these discussions will not produce some new way of holding elections later, Cedras leaving four months from now, da, da, da -- any kind of sixteen different variations --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Yes. I can assure you of that.
Q The only result of these discussions is they'll be gone?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is our policy, and it has not changed one bit.
Q Do you have a specific third country in mind for them to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Those are details that I don't wish to discuss here.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 6:01 P.M. EDT