WASHINGTON – The Bush administration said Thursday it would send a military team to Haiti to assess the security of the U.S. Embassy there, but stressed that it is still looking for a political solution to the bloody uprising against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search).
Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said the United States and other countries will offer a proposal to Aristide and opposition leaders for ending the political crisis in that county.
"I think if they will both accept this plan and start executing on it, we might find a way through this crisis politically," Powell said in an interview with ABC Radio's "Live in America" program.
The Pentagon announcement that a small number of military personnel was being sent to Haiti came as Aristide declared he was "ready to give my life" to defend Haiti, indicating he was not prepared to give up power.
Powell said there is a "solid consensus" on the Haitian issue among the United States, the Organization of American States (search), the United Nations, France and Canada. He said the international community must do what it can to help Aristide in his capacity as Haiti's elected leader.
Earlier this week, Powell said the United States was reluctant to send military personnel to Haiti to help resolve the bloody uprising. At the Pentagon, spokesman Lawrence DiRita told reporters that U.S. Ambassador James Foley had requested the military team.
The military team is expected to consist of three or four experts from U.S. Southern Command, the military command with authority over the Caribbean, Pentagon spokesman Di Rita told reporters at a press conference. DiRita said the team will assess threats to the U.S. Embassy and its personnel.
Senior military and Bush administration officials have said there is no plans to resolve the rebellion in Haiti through the use of military force.
"There remains a lot of interest in resolving this matter politically," Di Rita said.
Powell gave no details of the plan except to say that it does not contemplate Aristide's stepping down before his term ends in Feb. 2006.
But he said the United States would not object if, as part of a negotiation with opposition leaders, Aristide agreed to leave ahead of schedule.
"He is the president for some time to come yet. You know, if an agreement is reached that moves that in another direction, that's fine," Powell said.
He reaffirmed that the United States is opposed to any solution that violates democratic or constitutional norms.
The United States helped Aristide claim his place as president a decade ago. But American officials have become disillusioned with his rule and are debating internally what to do about it.
Publicly, the United States resists the notion of forcibly removing Aristide. Privately, the Bush administration is exploring options for helping foster a peaceful switch of leaders in Haiti without undercutting democratic rule.
Aristide upped the ante Wednesday by turning aside one U.S. suggestion: early elections that could appease his political opponents. He wants to serve until his five-year term expires in February 2006.
The United States has not clearly said it will refuse to recognize a successor to Aristide who takes over through coup or ouster, experts point out. Days ago, Powell had said that a change in leadership in Haiti was not an option. He also said earlier that the United States was not inclined to intervene to help Aristide maintain a grip on power.