President Clinton ordered six warships to waters off Haiti on Friday to enforce the U.N. trade embargo scheduled to take effect Monday and readied a small contingent of troops for the possible rescue of Americans in the Caribbean island nation.
Clinton ordered the show of force to back up his demand that Haiti's military rulers abide by an agreement to cede power and allow the return of popularly elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted in a 1991 military coup. But a senior Administration official acknowledged that it is unlikely Aristide will take office Oct. 30 as provided for in a U.N.-mediated settlement reached over three months ago on Governors Island in New York Harbor.
Clinton repeatedly mentioned his concerns about the safety of 1,100 American citizens living in Haiti, appearing to set the stage for a possible armed intervention to evacuate the Americans and to pave the way for Aristide's eventual return.
The President also said he was imposing unilateral sanctions on Haiti's military leaders, including a freeze on assets held in the United States and revocation of their travel visas.
"The purpose of these actions is this: to ensure the safety of Americans in Haiti and to press for the restoration of democracy there through the strongest possible enforcement of the sanctions," Clinton said at a press conference in the East Room of the White House.
"The military authorities in Haiti simply must understand that they cannot indefinitely defy the desires of their own people as well as the will of the world community," he said. "That path holds only suffering for their nation and international isolation for themselves."
But Aristide, who lives in Washington, urged Clinton not to contemplate military action to ensure his return.
"There is no need for military intervention, and President Aristide would not support such an effort," said Michael D. Barnes, a former Maryland congressman who serves as Aristide's legal adviser. Barnes said sanctions imposed earlier in the year brought the coup leadership to the peace table and, "if reimposed clearly and forcefully, will help bring democracy back to Haiti."
Clinton said "important American interests" are at stake in Haiti, including the safety of U.S. Embassy workers and civilians, the promotion of democracy in the hemisphere and the threat of a massive new wave of emigrants sailing toward American shores from the impoverished nation.
He said commanders of the six warships--a destroyer, two fast frigates and three heavily armed cruisers--will be given broad latitude to stop and search ships bound for Haiti to ensure that they are not carrying prohibited materials, chiefly oil and arms.
He also said Navy and Coast Guard vessels in the Caribbean will continue to turn back boats carrying Haitians seeking asylum in the United States.
Clinton's actions came one day after the slaying of Guy Malary, Haiti's justice minister and an Aristide supporter, and on the same day that Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, chief of Haiti's armed forces, and Port-au-Prince Police Chief Michel-Joseph Francois were supposed to step down to allow an Aristide-appointed government to take power. Neither man announced his resignation Friday.
A senior Administration official said the United States is not demanding their immediate resignation, however. He said the United States wants Cedras to "get the situation under control" so that international forces can enter Haiti to further the transition to democracy.
But Cedras has shown no inclination to allow the process to move forward. And there is persuasive evidence that police officers and street thugs who forced the retreat of a U.S. ship carrying American and Canadian military advisers earlier this week were acting on the orders of Cedras or Francois, the official said.
The aide conceded that there is virtually no chance that Aristide will return to Haiti by the end of the month, as called for under the accord sponsored by the United Nations and the Organization of American States and signed July 3.
At the United Nations, the United States sought Security Council blessing for American naval enforcement of the sanctions. A U.S. official said Ambassador Madeleine Albright was asking delegates to support a resolution authorizing the use of "military power" to make sure that no ship violates the oil and arms embargo.
A Security Council vote is scheduled for today. China's representative sought a delay Friday so that he could consult his government.
There is ample precedent for the council to authorize governments to use military force in the name of the United Nations. During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, the United States and its allies organized their assault under Security Council resolutions authorizing member states to use "all necessary means" to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait.
The infantry, ordered by Clinton to stand by at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will consist of a "reinforced company" from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Military authorities said the unit is armed with more automatic weapons and mortars than an ordinary company of similar size and can be augmented with additional support personnel or weapons to carry out a wide range of possible missions.
A White House official suggested that the force will be adequate for whatever mission the President orders.
The Navy vessels will be enforcing what amounts to a naval blockade. They are expected to patrol specific sectors of the international waters that begin 12 miles off Haiti's shores, with authority to stop and board any merchant ships that appear to be bound for one of the island's two sizable seaports, Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien.
The warships--the Aegis-class guided-missile cruisers Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the guided-missile cruiser Sterett, the frigates Klakring and Jack Williams and the destroyer Caron--began arriving off the coast of Haiti on Friday night and are expected to be at their stations today.
Besides these vessels, the Navy also has 16 other warships operating in the Caribbean, ranging from destroyers and Aegis cruisers to the tank landing ship Harlan County, which Clinton ordered back to Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday following riots in Port-au-Prince when it attempted to put the U.S. and Canadian advisers ashore.
Times staff writers Art Pine and Stanley Meisler contributed to this report.
Ships in Haitian Blockade
The ships President Clinton plans to have enforce curbs on Haiti include a San Diego-based guided missile cruiser. Here are the ships the Pentagon has designated:
Three guided-missile cruisers (Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Sterett)
Two frigates (Klakring and Jack Williams)
One destroyer (Caron)
Gettysburg and Vicksburg are based at Mayport, Fla.; Caron at Norfolk, VA.; Klakring at Charleston, S.C.: Jack Williams at Pascagoula, Miss., and Sterett at San Diego.
Source: Defense Department