U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday that, while the United States is disappointed with Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's performance in office, it does not have a policy of "regime change" with regard to the political crisis in Haiti. There will be a multi-lateral meeting on Haiti at the State Department Friday.
Remarks by some U.S. officials this week on the need for far-reaching changes in the way Haiti is governed gave rise to media reports that the Bush administration wants Mr. Aristide's early departure.
But in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Powell said the United States is backing efforts at mediation between Mr. Aristide and the opposition, led by the Caribbean grouping CARICOM, and does not have a policy of regime change.
"We are standing behind the CARICOM proposal, which both sides are examining and finding ways to move forward on, to find a political solution to this current crisis, and not a political solution that says President Aristide is illegal and he has to go, or, he has to go or there is no political solution," he said. "He is the president. We are only interested in a democratic solution, a constitutional solution, and we will continue to work to that end."
Mr. Powell said he is heavily engaged in efforts to restore peace in Haiti, and will convene a meeting on the crisis Friday, involving CARICOM officials, Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham and Organization of American States Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria.
The secretary's remarks came in response to questions from Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who said that, in the absence of intensive diplomacy led by the United States, violent unrest in Haiti might spin out of control and trigger a flood of Haitian asylum-seekers to Florida and elsewhere in the region.
"Unless the United States actually is a convener, a leader in trying to stop the violence and start bringing some kind of negotiated resolution, the place is going to be chaos," said Senator Nelson. "That happened to us in the Middle East, until you all started getting more active over there, I might say at your urging, and it's going to happen here in Haiti, if we keep a hands-off policy."
Mr. Powell said he has long had an interest in Haiti, and was part of a senior U.S. delegation that went to Haiti in 1994 to help reverse a military takeover, and clear the way for the deployment of U.S. troops that enabled the ousted Mr. Aristide to return to power.
The secretary of state told Mr. Nelson he is "disappointed" with Mr. Aristide's efforts since then to build a functioning stable democracy.
But he said Mr. Aristide is none-the-less Haiti's elected leader, and that Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Roger Noriega told a senior Haitian opposition figure Wednesday the United States wants a constitutional resolution of the crisis.