Encountering more opposition than it expected on military intervention in Haiti, the Clinton administration on Wednesday sought to signal a shift in its policy by voicing a new confidence that economic sanctions would succeed in ousting the Haitian military leaders.
In separate appearances, both Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and William H. Gray 3rd, President Clinton's special adviser on Haiti, played down the prospects of military intervention while trying to bolster the notion that sanctions would work, even though they have failed to budge Haiti's military for more than a year.Both officials said a surge in cooperation from other countries had finally created a comprehensive and effective embargo that they said should be given some time to squeeze the Haitian military and their wealthy supporters.
And Gray suggested that the United States and several other countries planned to tighten the sanctions even further this month, to ban all commercial air traffic and financial transactions between Haiti and other countries.
"Not only are we committed to exhausting all political, diplomatic and economic instruments available to us to achieve a peaceful multilateral solution to this problem, but as a result of what's happened in recent days we have an even higher degree of confidence that that is indeed possible and it certainly is our hope," Talbott said at a news briefing, referring to recent talks in which Latin American and Caribbean allies have backed tougher sanctions.
One administration official said the increased emphasis on sanctions and the decreased emphasis on intervention was "a tactical shift."
Part of that shift results from the administration's encountering far more opposition to its talk of military intervention than it expected - in Congress, among the American public and among other countries.
And part of the shift results from the administration's new-found belief that tougher sanctions just might work, especially now that the Dominican Republic, the only country that borders Haiti, has pledged to crack down on smuggling.
Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gray said the new, tougher sanctions would increase the administration's chances of pressing Haiti's military to cede power.
To turn up the pressure on the Haitian military's rich supporters further, he said, the United States and other countries are looking into denying visas to wealthy Haitians who support the military as well as freezing their assets.
"I have confidence that the sanctions can create an environment where people come to their senses," Gray said, noting that business supporters of Haiti's military are rethinking their allegiance. "We have a responsibility to try every arrow in the diplomatic quiver to make sure the coup leaders step down."
Committee members repeatedly thanked Gray for agreeing to be a trouble-shooter on one of the administration's thorniest diplomatic problems. His three hours of testimony were a fluid performance in which he vigorously defended the Haitian policy of the administration.
Gray and Talbott in no way ruled out the use of military force, saying repeatedly that the United States had important national interests at stake in restoring democracy to Haiti. But Gray said no U.S. invasion was imminent.