France has told U.S. officials that it will send deposed Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier to the United States following a week-long stay here, according to well-placed French sources.
The sources, who have a direct knowledge of the case, said that there was a plan to put the former Haitian president on an Air France plane for New York this morning unless a third country is found willing to give him political asylum.
U.S. officials said Saturday night that after checking the reports, they were satisfied that no attempt would be made to send Duvalier to the United States, at least "not in that time frame," staff writer John M. Goshko reported.
The officials did not elaborate on what prompted their sense of confidence about this assertion. But they seemed to imply that French authorities had threatened to send Duvalier as a means of putting pressure on the United States and that the possibility of a confrontation had been averted through last-minute discussions.
Duvalier, whose family ruled Haiti for nearly three decades, has been closeted in a hotel in the French lakeside resort of Talloires for the past week since his arrival aboard a U.S. Air Force plane on the evening of Feb. 7. At least half a dozen countries have publicly refused requests by Paris and Washington to provide a permanent place of exile for him and his immediate family.
French officials emphasized that from the beginning they have seen Duvalier as an American problem, particularly in view of the Reagan administration's interest in the Caribbean.
Last week, French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas sent Secretary of State George P. Shultz a communication reminding him that France had agreed to take Duvalier for only a week and that France would insist on that agreement being carried out.
Some U.S. officials admitted that the French had reluctantly acceded to U.S. appeals to accept Duvalier only on the understanding that his stay in France would be temporary and that the United States would take responsibility for finding him a permanent refuge elsewhere, Goshko reported.
"We really twisted arms with the French, and there is no question that they have a legitimate due bill to present to us," said one official, who asked not to be identified.
With just a month to go before crucial legislative elections, France's Socialist government is eager to avoid the political embarrassment that could result from a prolonged stay by Duvalier on French soil. French officials have stressed that France agreed to admit the Haitian dictator only temporarily and in the hope of avoiding a bloody rebellion in his own country.
In Talloires, signs mounted yesterday afternoon of an imminent change in Duvalier's status as his French lawyer and a senior official from the French Foreign Ministry arrived at the Hotel de l'Abbaye where the former president has been staying. The lawyer, Sauveur Vaisse, later issued a statement saying that Duvalier had turned down a French suggestion that he ask for political asylum in the West African state of Liberia.
Liberia had been mentioned as one of several possible destinations for Duvalier, who is accompanied by his wife Michele, several children and a number of close aides. But after first indicating that it would be prepared to grant the former Haitian president a place of refuge, the Liberian government announced Friday that it would only consider doing so if Duvalier requested it.
The plans for Duvalier's imminent departure from Talloires, a summer resort near the border with Switzerland, was confirmed by a French official with direct knowledge of the case and a member of the former dictator's entourage contacted by telephone.
In statements yesterday, French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius raised the possibility of sending Duvalier to the United States if no other country could be found willing to accept him.
Fabius said in a radio interview that France was still in contact with a number of countries about granting permanent exile to Duvalier. He said France had the "legal means" to prevent Duvalier from remaining in the country, including the possibility of expulsion.
Duvalier's French lawyers attempted to prolong his stay in France by submitting a request last week for him to be granted political asylum on the grounds that he was subject to "persecution" if he returned to Haiti. But the French government made it clear that it would reject the request.
French officials cited the "threat to public order" as sufficient grounds to expel Duvalier from France should he refuse to leave voluntarily.
In his first public statement since his dramatic departure from Haiti, the former dictator told the Paris newspaper Le Figaro that France was the one country where he could feel that he was in a "sufficiently serene atmosphere."
In his interview with Le Figaro, Duvalier said the United States had urged him to call new presidential elections in Haiti before his departure, but that he had refused on the grounds that it could result in further violence. He said he left his country to avoid a bloodbath.
Goshko added from Washington:
Officials said the U.S. strategy has centered on getting Duvalier to go to Liberia despite his publicly expressed reluctance to cooperate with that plan. They also admitted that, as of yesterday, Liberia, which has made conflicting statements about whether it would welcome Duvalier, still had not made a commitment to accept him.
The officials said the United States most likely would continue seeking to persuade Liberia to cooperate and to put pressure on Duvalier to accept that option.
In particular, they said, Duvalier will be reminded in strong terms that the United States has an extradition treaty with Haiti and that if he comes here, he runs the risk of legal efforts by a future Haitian government to have him sent home to face trial on criminal charges.