WASHINGTON — The Clinton Administration said Wednesday that ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide might improve his chances of regaining power by broadening the base of his government. But officials strongly denied accusations that the proposal would further undermine the exiled leader.
In a White House briefing, a senior Administration official said that the proposal to add new politicians who support democracy to the interim Cabinet is one of a number of proposals intended to revive a peace agreement torpedoed last week by Haiti's army chief, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, and his backers.
But the official emphatically denied charges by a top aide to Aristide that the Administration had tried to "sell out" Haiti's only freely elected president. The aide said that U.S. officials, joined by U.N. mediator Dante Caputo, hoped to placate the army and police by giving them representation in the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Robert Malval, an Aristide appointee.
The aide said that the plan is "a fancy way for the United Nations and the United States to kowtow to these armed thugs and give them what they are seeking."
Later, talking to reporters in Washington, Aristide refused to discuss a broadening of his Cabinet, although he said he will seek political reconciliation once he returns to Haiti.
"Without reconciliation, we cannot speak of democracy," he said in a luncheon speech at the Inter-American Development Bank.
Meanwhile, the White House reached a compromise with Senate leaders on language in a resolution that would have restricted the president's authority to intervene militarily in Haiti. The compromise resolution--the result of several days of negotiation involving Democratic leaders, senior Administration officials and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.)--is scheduled for a vote today.
The furor over Haiti's interim Cabinet came as Aristide insisted that he still intends to return to Haiti on Oct. 30 to resume power under terms of the peace plan that he and Cedras signed July 3 on Governors Island in New York Harbor. Under the pact, Cedras and Police Chief Michel-Joseph Francois were to have resigned last Friday and U.N. military advisers, including about 600 Americans, were to have deployed in Haiti.
But Cedras and Francois refused to quit, and a band of thugs prevented the first contingent of American and Canadian troops from landing in Port-au-Prince.
Nevertheless, Aristide's American attorney, Michael Barnes, said that the exiled president has chartered an airplane to take him home as originally scheduled, even though the country remains under the control of Cedras and other military leaders who ousted Aristide in a bloody coup in 1991.
"The jet is chartered," Barnes said on the "Fox Morning News." " . . . He has every intention of going."
Malval, appointed prime minister by Aristide in August under the terms of the Governors Island pact, heads a civilian government overshadowed by Cedras, Francois and their supporters.
Interviewed by CNN in Port-au-Prince, Malval said he is willing to broaden his Cabinet to include other democratic politicians, but only after Aristide has regained power. He said he is prepared to meet Cedras at any time to discuss the future of the country: "We are not here to shut the doors. We are here to keep them open."
But he said there is no place for the general or other military leaders in his government.
Malval said he will resign the prime minister's post if Aristide is unable to resume the presidency.
He agreed with the Clinton Administration official that the United States and the United Nations never suggested including military or police leaders in the government.
According to the Administration official, Caputo, along with American, French, Venezuelan and Canadian diplomats, gave Malval a paper this week suggesting things that might help Aristide regain power. The official said one proposal was for Malval to bring additional politicians, including some Aristide critics, into the Cabinet. The official said that the step would increase the isolation of the military.
"It was not to give something to the bad guys," the official said. "It was to give something to the (other) good guys and get them on your side."
However, the official conceded that the plan could be misconstrued as an overture to the military, especially in light of an interview, published Tuesday by The Times, with Evans Francois, the older brother of Police Chief Francois and a key adviser to Cedras. The elder Francois said that Aristide must give important Cabinet posts to the military.