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Powell Voices Disappointment With Aristide - 2004-02-27

In a further sign of erosion in the position of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Secretary of State Colin Powell said late Thursday the embattled Haitian leader should carefully consider whether he can effectively carry on in that post. The United States had until that time refrained from any suggestion that the elected Haitian leader should step down.

The Bush administration had maintained throughout the Haitian crisis that Mr. Aristide should be able to serve out the remainder of his term, which runs until early in 2006. But in a joint press appearance with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, Mr. Powell took a different approach, saying he hoped the Haitian leader would examine his position carefully and do what is best for the Haitian people:

"He is the democratically elected president. But he has had difficulties in his presidency. And I think, as a number of people have commented, whether or not he is able to effectively continue as president is something that he will have to examine. And I hope he will examine it carefully considering the interests of the Haitian people," he said.

Pressed by a reporter if he was asking Mr. Aristide to step down, Mr. Powell said he thought his statement had been "pretty clear." He said it is a difficult time for the Haitian people and said again, Mr. Aristide should examine how best to serve them at this time.

Mr. Powell had made similar, though less pointed comments earlier Thursday in Senate committee testimony, in which he also said the United States had been disappointed with Mr. Aristide's performance in office over the years.

In the talk with reporters here, Mr. Powell lamented problems that developed in Haiti after U.S. forces returned Mr. Aristide to power in 1994, including the failure of a costly effort to professionalize the Haitian police.

"A lot of money was invested in Haiti to try to build up the proper institutions of government, but unfortunately it didn't stay together. Corruption came into play. Inefficiency came into play. Cronyism came into play. And then the whole political tapestry of the country came apart, with elections that weren't proper and an electoral crisis that was not resolved by President Aristide or the other political figures in Haiti," he said.

Mr. Powell said the international community was ready to commit police or other forces to help sustain a transitional government or new political arrangement in Haiti, though he said it had not yet been decided what the United States' role in such a deployment might be.