US gets a good look at Elian in first TV interview

Americans werE yesterday given their first close look at Elian Gonzalez, the six-year- old Cuban whose disputed stay in the United States appears now to be reaching its end.

ABC television sent a star presenter, Dianne Sawyer, to Miami to "interview" Elian, who said he did not believe his mother died with her boyfriend in the wreck of a boat carrying them to the US in November.

The "interview" was shown as Elian's relatives in Miami agonised about appealing against a ruling that denied him an asylum hearing. Just before the deadline their lawyers said they would accept the accelerated timetable for an appeal and had lodged their appeal.

The Elian feature was followed by an interview with the Washington-based lawyer for the boy's father, who wants him returned to Cuba. Gordon Craig reiterated that Juan Gonzalez was ready to come to the US at once if he could be sure he could take Elian home with him immediately.

Ms Sawyer said Elian came over as "well-mannered and thoughtful". She rough-housed with him on the floor of a schoolroom and cajoled him into drawing pictures of his experience. She elicited from him his belief that dolphins had helped to keep him afloat in the inner tube that saved him and that his mother was not dead "and just doesn't know I'm here".

Ms Sawyer said ABC had agonised about the relatives' invitation to meet Elian, understanding "they have their own agenda". The ABC team took a psychiatrist with them and the child's own psychiatric counsellor was on hand.