Haiti regime taunts US over invasion delay

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The Independent Online
WILL HE? Won't he? In last week's speculation over an invasion of Haiti, one might have looked to Port-au-Prince for guidance. The thinking among the leadership there seems to have been that the US President could have us for lunch whenever he wants but so far has yet to summon the appetite.

How else to explain the naked taunting of Washington by the regime, even after last weekend's approval of an invasion by the United Nations Security Council? Last week it declared a state of siege, reinforcing the repression of the Haitian people, and ejected top US journalists.

So categoric have been Bill Clinton's demands - that Lieutenant-General Raoul Cedras and his cohorts leave the land and that Jean-Bertrand Aristide be allowed to return as president - that at some juncture, barring movement by the regime, an invasion will become unavoidable.

For now, however, almost every consideration points to further delay. Even sources within the US administration are beginning to say it: no US Marines will land in Haiti for at least another month, unless the lives of the 3,000-odd US citizens still there are threatened.

Washington has made no secret of its desire to make any operation a multi-national effort, led by US troops but swelled by soldiers from other countries in the hemisphere. So far no government has promised to give Mr Clinton that support. At the beginning of last week Argentina pledged to contribute troops, but by Thursday the offer had been withdrawn after it had sparked furious controversy in Argentina.

Almost as significant was the attempt by Venezuela to launch a diplomatic mission with other Latin American countries to persuade Haiti's leaders to step down. Washington complained and for now, the initiative has been abandoned.

But President Clinton is not blind to his close neighbours' misgivings. Nor can he be sure of the domestic political consequences of going in. Congress is mostly opposed to military action, with Republicans warning that while invasion would be easy, extricating American soldiers later would be hard.

On Wednesday, the Senate reminded the White House that the UN resolution did not constitute approval by Congress. Mr Clinton does not consider he is obliged to consult Congress before giving the invasion order but is likely to want to, nevertheless.

Any takeover of Haiti, meanwhile, would distract Congress at a crucial time for the President. Members are considering a crime bill and plans to reform health care. The latter, is pivotal for the President, and getting something approved by November's mid-term elections is going to need his and the Hill's unfettered attention.

Within the administration, meanwhile, views are divided on the best way forward. For instance, the Defense Secretary, William Perry, favours offering General Cedras inducements to leave, including the provision of safe conduct. State Department officials, however, favour setting a deadline to comply with US demands.

These differences are not irresolvable, but they hardly point to an invasion being attempted any time soon.