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Powell Responds to Aristide Allegations

Aired March 1, 2004 - 14:10   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Back now live to Washington. Secretary of State Colin Powell taking some questions. He's talking about this allegation about the abduction, so-called abduction of Aristide.
Let's listen.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: ... charges are leveled at us.

I was intimately involved in this situation all through Saturday night. The first call we received from security people of President Aristide, people who work for him who contacted our security people, and there was a question about their ability to continue protecting him. And he wanted to discuss with our Ambassador the possibility of departure and he had several questions that he put to our Ambassador.

The Ambassador consulted with me and Assistant Secretary Noriega by telephone. We told him he could take the call and see what President Aristide had in mind. And he talked about protection of property, protection of his personal property, his -- property of some of his ministers, and would he have some choice as to where he was going if he decided to leave.

We gave him answers to these questions, positive answers. And then in the course of the evening, other conversations took place. He said he wanted to think about it, he wanted to speak to his wife, which he did. And he came back to us and said that it was his decision, based on what his security people were also telling him about the deteriorating situation, that he should leave. And we made arrangements for his departure. He was -- he wrote a letter of resignation. I think he might have been in touch with other people. And a leased plane was brought in and he departed at 6:15, thereabouts on Sunday morning.

He was not kidnapped. We did not force him onto the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly. And that's the truth. And it would have been better for Members of Congress who have heard these stories to ask us about the stories before going public with them so that we don't make a difficult situation that much more difficult.

The first destination that he wanted to go to would not receive him at this time, and so we went through about an hour and a half of difficult negotiations with various countries and with friends of ours to find alternative locations that he might go to -- while the plane was in the air.

And I'm very pleased that the Central African Republic showed a willingness to accept him on an interim basis, and that's where President Aristide and members of his family went, accompanied by his own personal security. Some 15 members of his personal security detachment were with him from his house to the airport, on to the plane with him, on to the refueling locations, and on to the Central African Republic. And that's what's happened, notwithstanding any cell phone reports to the contrary.

With respect to your broader question, Haiti is a nation that must build some basic political institutions that function, that work, and that are answerable to the people. It's been tried a number of times. You will all note very well that I was part of a delegation in 1994. I went down there with President Carter and with Senator Nunn, and if I'm not mistaken, Ms. Mitchell, you were there. And we succeeded in getting the generals out and President Aristide back in.

And I have watched over the last ten years, through his first administration, through the interim administration which he had a lot to do with controlling, and then his coming back into office. And I saw a man who was democratically elected, but he did not democratically govern or govern well, and he has to bear a large burden, if not the major burden, for what has happened.

And now we are there to give the Haitian people another chance, and we will be working with Haitians to help Haitians put in place a political system, and we will support it to the best of our ability. And I'm pleased that the international community has responded so quickly with a unanimous UN resolution.

I might also say that as this crisis was unfolding over the last several weeks, we worked very hard with the opposition leaders in Haiti, with the Haitian Government, trying to find a political way to move forward. We were in the closest possible consultations with our CARICOM friends and with our French colleagues and Canadian colleagues and others, other interested parties, the Secretary General of the United Nations. Daily consultations. So we all knew the positions of the others and we were all trying to reinforce each other's position.

It became clear last week that the kind of political solution we hoped for was not to be there, and increasingly it seemed that President Aristide would ultimately be the impediment to progress. And you know the rest.

O'BRIEN: All right. With that we're going to leave the briefing and the Secretary of State. And we'll continue to monitor it. But I think that's probably all he is going to say today about the Haiti situation, a pretty forceful statement.


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