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US, Concerned Parties Working on Political Solution for Haiti's Turmoil - 2004-02-19

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday the United States is working with other concerned parties on a plan for a political solution to the turmoil in Haiti. Senior U.S. officials say the plan would provide a pathway to implementing the Haitian peace formula of the Caribbean grouping CARICOM.

Mr. Powell provided no details of the plan he said is being worked up by the United States, France, Canada and the United Nations among others.

But he said a there was a "solid consensus" among its sponsors, and said if President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the opposition accept it and begin its implementation, then "we might find a way through this crisis politically."

Mr. Powell, interviewed on the ABC Radio network, reiterated the U.S. stand that Mr. Aristide, Haiti's elected president, must not be driven from office by the armed gangs who have seized control of several of Haiti's major towns.

He said the early departure of Mr. Aristide was not part of the emerging peace plan, yet he also suggested that it could be part of an eventual settlement of the crisis.

"That's not an element of the plan, because under the constitution, he is the president for some time to come yet," Mr. Powell said. "If an agreement is reached that moves that in another direction, that's fine. But right now he has no intention to step down, and since he is the elected leader of Haiti, we should not be putting forward a plan that would require him to step down."

Pressed to elaborate, Mr. Powell said the United States and its partners were neither suggesting nor encouraging Mr. Aristide to leave office before his current term ends in 2006, and said that was a matter for him and the opposition to decide.

He reiterated that in the context of a political solution, the international community is prepared to send additional police to Haiti to help maintain the peace.

A senior State Department official said the plan referred to by Mr. Powell would be complementary to the peace formula of the Caribbean grouping CARICOM, and specify a series of steps Mr. Aristide needs to take to implement it.

The CARICOM plan, among other things, calls for the disarmament of rival groups and the naming of a broad-based governmental advisory council to lead Haiti toward new elections.

In the ABC interview, Mr. Powell also defended U.S. handling of the Haitian crisis in the face of a Washington Post editorial Thursday that the Bush administration has passed the problem to others in what it termed an "inexcusable abdication" of responsibility.

The secretary said the United States has done "a lot" in Haiti over the past decade including its intervention in 1994 to reverse the military overthrow of Mr. Aristide.

But he said the U.S. judgement now is that the answer to the current turmoil is not to impose a military or police solution, but to continue seeking a political settlement.