President Clinton on Thursday laid out his most detailed rationale for possible military action in Haiti, saying that American interests are at stake there because of drug trafficking into the United States, as well as the risk of mass emigration posed by the Caribbean nation's deepening civil strife.
In a news conference after a meeting with Indian Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, Clinton listed six reasons why American military action, though rejected in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda, could be appropriate in Haiti.
He cited the impoverished nation's proximity, its efforts to adopt democratic reforms, the presence of several thousand Americans on the island and the 1 million Haitian-Americans in this country.
"We have a lot of very significant interests there," Clinton said in comments that underscored the increasingly threatening tone of the confrontation with Haiti's military leaders.
The remarks represented the most prominent mention of drug trafficking as grounds for consideration of U.S. action. Drug trafficking was emphasized at the time of the American invasion of Panama as evidence that the regime of Gen. Manuel A. Noriega was a threat to U.S. national security.
Clinton's stern warning Thursday came as it was disclosed that U.S. officials are collecting evidence of the drug trafficking of high-level Haitian officials, including the nation's military head, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras.
On other topics, Clinton said:
* It "would be an error" for North Korea to "continue to thwart" international inspections of its nuclear sites. He said he is awaiting a report on a current inspection before deciding on the next U.S. step in the confrontation with Pyongyang.
* He intends to promote a "very close relationship" with India after years of growing tension and promised to keep an open mind on the country's request for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
* His foreign policy cannot be attacked fairly as "ad hoc" because "I continue to look for new solutions."
On Haiti, a U.S. official said the Justice Department has been gathering evidence that identifies Cedras as one of many officials who facilitate and profit from drug shipments through the island nation.
"There is high-level drug trafficking going on through Haiti, a continuing criminal enterprise since at least 1984," the official said. "There is no doubt about that. The question is whether only a subset of the military is involved--or the whole senior level."
The Clinton Administration has asserted that U.S. military action remains an option but that it wants to see whether economic sanctions will be enough to force the military government to step down.
Clinton's warning to North Korea came amid charges that Pyongyang has begun withdrawing spent fuel from a nuclear reactor without independent scrutiny. Some Western governments believe North Korea has previously used such fuel to make nuclear weapons.
The International Atomic Energy Agency issued a statement Thursday condemning North Korea, saying it has committed a "serious violation" of an agreement for inspection of its nuclear activities. The IAEA vowed to report the matter to the U.N. Security Council.
The IAEA's unusually blunt message is meant to heighten pressure on the hard-line Communist state to work out an acceptable arrangement for inspection of the withdrawal of all fuel remaining in the reactor.
But it also heightens pressure on the Clinton Administration to respond to the alleged violation of North Korea's pledge to assure the world it is not developing a nuclear stockpile.
Since the removal of the fuel from the reactor was confirmed Thursday, U.S. officials have not commented extensively on the matter in hopes that an inspection arrangement can be worked out before political pressure forces the Administration to seek punitive economic sanctions against North Korea.
"I think it would be an error for North Korea to continue to thwart these inspections after they have agreed to comply with them," Clinton said.
But he added, "I want to know what the facts are, and when I do, then I will make a more definitive statement."
Clinton said he was briefed on the situation earlier Thursday by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and expects to see a full report from the international team within the next several days.
A senior aide said that if the inspectors are denied access to the North Korean facility or see evidence of the diversion of plutonium-laden fuel rods, the United States is prepared to ask the Security Council to impose tough economic sanctions "within a matter of days."
Clinton, Rao and their subordinates emphasized that the point of their meeting was that they met at all, in an effort to clear away years of growing tension over differences about nuclear proliferation, human rights and the battle for control of the Himalayan state of Kashmir.
The world's two largest democracies "have a great future together," Clinton said afterward. But he acknowledged that he has been "disturbed by the apparent strain, or limitation on the relationship between the United States and India."
No American President has met with an Indian head of state since 1987, when then-President Ronald Reagan hosted Rajiv Gandhi. One source of friction is that, after 16 months, the Clinton Administration ambassador has not yet presented credentials to the Indian government.
Officials said afterward that the meetings of Indian and U.S. officials dwelt primarily on possibilities for improved trade--the area in which they are most in agreement.
Clinton said there will be increased high-level contacts between the two countries, including trips by Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown and Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary.
* DIPLOMATIC SIGNALS: U.S. won't punish key civilian backers of Haiti's coup. A10