Administration officials repeated Sunday that the clock is ticking for Haiti's military leaders, but appeared to differ on whether they must leave the country to avoid a U.S.-led invasion.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher also stressed that U.S. credibility is at stake in restoring democracy in Haiti, and that President Clinton is moving ahead with military plans despite the current opposition of most Americans and members of Congress to sending U.S. forces into Haiti."Sometimes a president has a responsibility. He has to do what is in the nation's interest," Christopher said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Christopher and U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright made clear, again, the administration's message that it has run out of patience with the military leaders who ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power in a September 1991 coup.
"The time is very short," Albright said on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley." "Their days are numbered."
But there appeared some discrepancy over whether Gen. Raoul Cedras and other top officials would have to leave Haiti before the United States would call off its invasion plans.
The restored democracy could deal with Cedras if he stays, Christopher said. "The important thing is not what he does next, it is that he steps down, relinquishes control of the government to the constitutional powers, as he should."
Albright, however, said Cedras and his associates "have to leave. That has been made very clear. We have delivered the message."
Christopher also strongly denied that the administration hoped to make political gains by staging an invasion shortly before the November congressional elections. "Let me tell you that those charges are just pure baloney. There is just no partisanship in this situation."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a leading critic of the proposed use of U.S. force in Haiti, said he agreed that Clinton would not launch an invasion for political reasons.
But he warned that Christopher's prediction that most U.S. forces would be replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force within a few months were overly optimistic. "I believe that Cedras and his people would melt into the population. We would see popular uprising and the kinds of scenarios that we saw between 1915 and 1934," when U.S. troops occupied Haiti, McCain said.
"He had better not do it (invade) without some assurance that he'll receive the backing of Congress and the American people. Otherwise, over time, we will find that confidence eroded and perhaps a very embarrassing withdrawal."
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" said the Republicans will offer amendments in the coming weeks challenging Clinton's authority to use military force. "The president would lose because he has not made the case" for invasion, Dole said.
Christopher and Albright confirmed that several countries outside the hemisphere, including Belgium, the Netherlands and Israel, have agreed to join a U.N. peacekeeping force that will move into Haiti after U.S.-dominated forces restore democracy.
He said the U.N. peacekeepers, to be comprised mainly of non-Americans, could be out by early 1996, following presidential elections at the end of 1995.