President Clinton said talks with Haiti's military rulers Saturday offered one last, best chance to avoid an invasion but declared, "I will not be delayed, I will not be deterred" from using force if diplomacy fails.
Underscoring his willingness to use force, the president reviewed final invasion plans at the Pentagon, where one military commander described U.S. troops as ready to operate "at full throttle.""We still hope to end this journey peacefully," Clinton said in his weekly radio address from the Oval Office. "But let me say one last time, the cause is right, the mission is achievable and limited, and we will succeed."
Clinton said he dispatched a U.S. delegation led by former President Jimmy Carter to meet with Haiti's military rulers because "it is the responsibility of any American president to pursue every possible alternative to the use of force, in order to avoid bloodshed and the loss of American lives."
The White House provided little detail about the meetings other than to say Saturday's talks were "serious and constructive" and that more meetings were planned for Sunday.
Should this last diplomatic effort fail, a senior administration official said, the likelihood of military action "is a matter of days away, if not hours."
"Our timetable has not changed as a result of the mission," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The aircraft carriers USS Eisenhower and USS America arrived at their stations in the Caribbean and with that, all the pieces of the potential U.S. assault were in place, said Pentagon spokesman Dennis Boxx.
"The operational side of this is moving ahead," Boxx said. "The gun is cocked."
Pentagon officials said that roughly the same size U.S. force would be used in Haiti even if Cedras left peacefully and an operation to oust him were not needed.
Thousands of U.S. soldiers, sailors and Marines would be used to secure the main airport, the U.S. Embassy and other positions in Haiti while a multinational force arrived to try to maintain civil order and begin a transition of power.
Carter, Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and retired Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with religious and business leaders in addition to a three-hour session with Army chief Raoul Cedras and others from the ruling military junta.
Clinton was briefed on the developments by National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, who was in touch with the delegation in Haiti. The delegation was expected to depart for the United States at midday Sunday.
The delegation arrived in Port-au-Prince with a narrow mandate from Washington, authorized only to discuss terms of the military rulers' departure, not broader issues.
Should the military dictators agree to surrender power peacefully, the delegation would discuss issues such as visas, transportation, what and who the leaders could take with them, and where they would go, administration officials said.
"They're not being offered anything other than being told by this delegation that they must depart," William Gray, Clinton's special adviser on Haiti, said on CNN's "Newsmaker Saturday." "No one is offering a life of luxury."
Carter, on his arrival in Haiti, said the delegation was pursuing "a very simple but very important mission" to devise a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
Clinton, meanwhile, made a rare trip to the Pentagon to review classified invasion plans with top military brass in the National Military Command Center, informally known as the war room.
Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Defense Secretary William Perry and Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a video-teleconference with military commanders aboard ships in the Caribbean and at U.S. installations.
Clinton praised "the smoothness, intelligence and interagency integration of the planning," Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said later.
She said he told aides earlier in the day: "I will not be delayed, I will not be deterred."
Even as invasion preparations moved forward, Clinton was hoping to avoid a military operation that is widely opposed by the American people and members of Congress.
A Time-CNN poll released Saturday showed 58 percent of Americans oppose the use of U.S. troops to oust the military rulers while 27 percent said troops should be dispatched. The survey of 600 Americans, conducted Friday, had a margin of error of plus or minor 4 percentage points.
Clinton used his radio address to try to persuade Americans the cause was just, saying, "the dictators rejected all of our efforts and their reign of terror - a campaign of murder, rape and mutilation - gets worse with every passing day. Now we must act."
There are doubts about invasion even within the delegation Clinton sent to Haiti.
Nunn in recent days has spoken against an invasion, questioning the goal of "restoring" democracy in a nation where democracy never took hold. Powell, too, has told associates he opposes an invasion.
In the Republican response to Clinton's radio address, Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana warned that military intervention "could be one of the most foolish acts of foreign policy of the last century."
Ten U.S. Army reserve units were called to active duty Saturday to support a potential invasion. The units, from the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, are not combat forces, and it was not certain they would actually go to Haiti, said Pentagon spokesman Air Force Col. Doug Kennett.