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Reno ponders force, other options, to end Elian standoff

Miami relatives would retain regular access to boy

In this story:

'Mediation, not confrontation'

Reno refuses to talk tactics

Father's plea draws thousands of responses


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Janet Reno was negotiating through intermediaries in Miami early Saturday to hammer out the details of the transfer of Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez from his Miami relatives to his father.

VideoThe situation with Elian has been a catalyst in Cuba-U.S. relations, as CNN's Martin Savidge reports. (April 21)
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Read the 11th Circuit Court's April 19 decision


The U.S. relatives of 6-year-old Elian had two separate meetings Friday in Miami with representatives of the Justice Department, sources familiar with the negotiations said. Talks involving intermediaries and attorneys for both sides continued overnight.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said "outside parties" were also involved in the process of putting together a plan for a cooperative resolution that would include an immediate transfer of Elian to his father's care.

Under the proposal from unnamed Miami community leaders, the Miami relatives would have regular, if not daily, access to the child. That arrangement would last until the U.S. relatives' appeal for an asylum hearing for the boy is complete.

Although the Miami family has not yet agreed to the plan, the proposal was sent to the law offices of Gregory Craig, the attorney for Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. The two men were consulting Friday night -- and Craig continued working on the plan Saturday morning..

A Justice Department official said Reno also had spoken to Craig.

'Mediation, not confrontation'

The first meeting between Lazaro Gonzalez, his daughter Marisleysis, and Justice Department officials was held at a Miami church. Talks lasted for an hour but failed to resolve the standoff, the sources said.

"It was an added overture by the government to get a sense of whether they (the Miami relatives) would be willing to work out an agreement among the families," said the source.

The Gonzalezes reportedly offered to take Elian to a meeting in Miami with the boy's father, Juan Gonzalez. But they said the father could not take the boy home with him.

That, according to the sources, was deemed unacceptable by the Justice officials and the meeting ended.

Miami Mayor Joe Carollo said a second meeting between the two parties took place Friday night.

Lazaro Gonzalez
Lazaro Gonzalez takes a break from late-night negotiations Friday  

The two sides discussed a plan the mayor said he put forth last week, which would set up both families in a compound for a transition period. During that time, he said, Elian would be able to come and go from one family to the other. Such an arrangement would be "least traumatic" for Elian, said the mayor.

Carollo said in such a protected compound, "Miguel can breathe freedom for the first time in the United States."

Earlier Friday, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush sent a letter to Reno and President Clinton urging them to pursue a mediated agreement in the case. "We believe the forcible separation of Elian and his current caregivers is unwise and unwarranted," the governor wrote in the letter.

"Mediation, not confrontation, is what is in young Elian's best interest at this critical point in time," Bush added.

Reno refuses to talk tactics

Also on Friday, Juan Gonzalez met briefly with Reno and Immigration and Naturalization Commissioner Doris Meissner to express his fears for his son and to request immediate action.

Reno later issued a written statement: "I was deeply moved by Mr. Gonzalez' evident love for his son. I assured him that I would continue working toward the goal of reuniting him with his child, but I also told him that I could not commit to a particular course of action or timetable."

Juan Gonzalez already has legal, if not physical, custody. Last week, the government revoked the temporary custody awarded to Elian's great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez following the boy's rescue at sea nearly five months ago.

Reno declined to confirm reports she is on the verge of ordering law enforcement agents to remove Elian from the Miami home.

But senior law enforcement sources told CNN that government preparations, which began last week after Lazaro Gonzalez refused an order from Reno to hand over the child, could lead to enforcement action at any time.

Supporters of Elian's Miami relatives stand and pray outside of their home on Friday  

According to government officials, federal agents have been assessing the situation in Miami, monitoring Elian's movements as well as the size of crowds around his great-uncle's home in the Little Havana neighborhood, in preparation for possible enforcement action there.

Senior White House officials told CNN the Easter holiday is a factor in determining how to proceed. But, they added, Reno has made it clear to President Clinton she would act whenever she believes the timing is appropriate.

Justice Department spokeswoman Carole Florman portrayed the attorney general as left with virtually no choice other than law enforcement.

"There have always been three trains moving simultaneously down the track -- negotiations for a transfer, litigation and law enforcement," Florman said. "We are no longer in the engineer's seat on the negotiation train. We're just passengers."

Father's plea draws thousands of responses

As of midday Friday, the Justice Department said it had received more than 7,000 telephone calls since Juan Gonzalez made a televised appeal Thursday afternoon for Americans to urge Reno and Clinton to help him get his son back quickly.

At the White House, spokesman Joe Lockhart said a "good volume" of calls was received on the White House comment line Thursday night, "overwhelmingly in favor of reuniting the boy with his father."

Juan Gonzalez came to the United States on April 6 in hopes of a quick return to Cuba with his son. Now staying at the suburban Washington home of a Cuban diplomat, the father promises to remain in the United States until the federal appeals court in Atlanta decides if Elian should get an asylum hearing.

A hearing on that request is set for May 11.

Elian was rescued by two fishermen while clinging to an inner tube off the Florida coast on November 25. He and two others survived, but his mother and 10 others drowned when their boat sank while trying to reach the United States from Cuba.

The boy's Miami relatives have cared for him ever since. They insist Elian will be better off living with them and argue that the boy would be psychologically harmed and face persecution if he is returned to communist-ruled Cuba.

Justice Department Correspondent Pierre Thomas, Senior White House Correspondent John King, and correspondents Mark Potter, Jean Meserve and Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.

Elian's father pleads for son; Clinton backs boy's return
April 21, 2000
Elian's father pleads for U.S. public support; mass protest held in Havana
April 20, 2000
Transferring custody of Elian not ruled out, Reno says
April 19, 2000
Elian's well-being debated as court considers case
April 18, 2000
Unless barred by court order, INS to remove Elian from Miami home
April 17, 2000

U.S. Attorney General
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
U.S. Department of Justice
Executive Office of the Governor of Florida
Eleventh Circuit Published Opinions
United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit - Foundation to Help Save Elian
Granma Internacional Digital, Cuba
  •  Kidnap in Miami
Cuban American National Foundation

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