Responding to Fidel Castro, the Clinton administration Thursday flatly rejected high-level talks with Havana and said the flood of boat people from Cuba was the direct result of Castro's "reluctance to reform."
Undersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff said the United States is not ready to talk with Cuba, as Castro proposed in a 2 1/2-hour broadcast address Wednesday night."Castro is trying to make the U.S. part of the problem and part of the solution," Tarnoff said in an interview on CBS. "The problem lies in Cuba. It's a result of direct mismanagement over the last 35 years, his reluctance to reform."
Tarnoff said the solution to the refugee problems "lies in Cuba in the form of his establishing a dialogue with the Cuban people, leading to what they're demanding - reform, economic and political, in Cuba itself."
Castro, challenging President Clinton's decision to send Cuban refugees to Guantanamo naval base as an "absurd response" to the mounting immigration crisis, said he would make no effort to halt the flow of people leaving his country.
Speaking on state television, the Cuban president said the United States was to blame for the exodus that began earlier this month and is growing daily. New policy measures announced by Clinton in recent days only "make the problem more complicated," Castro said.
"They cannot blame us for that situation," Castro said. "They created a mentality in a lot of people" in Cuba that "they had the right to travel to the United States illegally."
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that "some open negotiations with Castro makes sense. It's anachronistic not to do it."
Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a senior Republican on the Foreign Relations panel, said, "The administration is going to have to deal with Fidel Castro and with the Cuban government - not in a sense in which they say, in essence, `All is forgiven.' "
Instead, Lugar said, the United States has to deal with Cuba "in the same hard-nosed way that we've tried to deal with Kim Il-Sung and his successor over in North Korea, or with the Chinese, or with other people that we don't care for."
The Coast Guard picked up 3,096 Cubans at sea Wednesday, bringing the exodus of refugees since last Friday to about 10,000 people.
To deal with the crisis, the administration rushed to expand the capacity of detention camps at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo to hold 40,000 people. Some 14,000 Haitians already are being held there.
Administration officials said contingency plans are being reviewed for housing up to 65,000 refugees at Guantanamo.
The administration launched an intense effort to persuade Cubans to stay home.
"We are preparing to maintain that base indefinitely, if necessary, until such time as the people can be repatriated to Cuba," Defense Secretary William Perry said Wednesday when asked whether the United States would maintain a Cuban colony at Guantanamo for months or years.
Attorney General Janet Reno scoffed at Castro's comments Thursday, telling NBC that Castro was encouraging the flow of refugees to help himself.
"There is nothing encouraging about Castro," Reno said. "His regime has failed, his country is in despair and all he does is react in human contemptible terms by letting his people risk their lives just to ease the pressure on himself."
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., called Clinton's policy a failure and said the administration should call for Castro's removal from power with "no conditions, no waffling."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Thursday criticized the administration's policy on Cuba, saying on CBS, "I think it's a half-baked policy with little chance of success unless it is coupled with some strong foreign policy initiatives."
Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., appearing on ABC, said "the world ought to indict and isolate Castro" and said entering any negotiations with the Cuban leader "would extend his time of tyranny."
Perry acknowledged fears Castro might encourage thousands of Cubans to flood through the gates of Guantanamo, risking their lives across a mine-filled no man's land.
"We would regard this as being an unfriendly act toward the United States and would take appropriate actions," Perry said.
The administration has been vague about what will happen to Cubans in the long term, whether detained at Guantanamo or in third countries. The administration hopes to reach an agreement to send some refugees to the Turks and Caicos Islands, Suriname, Panama and other countries.