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CNN Today

U.S. Religious Leaders Willing to Mediate Talks to Return Elian Gonzalez to Cuba

Aired January 4, 2000 - 1:06 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The international spat over a six-year- old Cuban boy has taken a turn sure to anger Cuban Americans. U.S. religious leaders advise immigration officials now to return Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba.

CNN's Lucia Newman is on the line from Havana.

Lucia, what's the story?

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hello, Lou.

Indeed, the Reverend Joan Campbell, who's the outgoing head of the U.S. National Council of Churches, is here in Cuba; she's been here since Sunday, and she tells CNN that she met last night with President Fidel Castro to discuss this international custody dispute. She wouldn't reveal what, if any, agreements had been reached, but it is known that influential American Religious Council is willing to mediate for a quick solution so that the child will be returned to his father here in Cuba.

Now, a short while ago, the Reverend Campbell met with President Castro's point man on U.S.-Cuban affairs, Ricardo Alarcon, who's also the president of Cuba's parliament. And after the meeting, we asked Mr. Alarcon if Cuba would concede to an INS request that Elian's father, Jan Miguel Gonzalez, be given a visa to the U.S. to pick up his son if he were granted custody. And he answered that the Cuban government would do, quote, "whatever is convenient for the father according to his wishes," unquote.

Now, it's important to point out that both the father and the Cuban government have argued for weeks that there's no reason for Mr. Gonzalez to go to the U.S., that the onus is on U.S. immigration authorities to return the boy to Cuba according to U.S. and international law, they argue. Yesterday, I asked the boy's father again why he wouldn't go to Miami to claim his son, and he said that because, quote, "they will want to pressure me, they may even kidnap me or try to kill me. Anything is possible in a country that has done what it's done with my son," he told us -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Lucia Newman keeping watch in Havana, today.

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