A French plan to get rid of deposed Haitian president Jean-Claude Duvalier by putting him on a plane bound for New York was called off at the last moment today after dramatic late-night negotiations between Paris and Washington, according to official sources in both capitals.
Duvalier, who arrived in France on Feb. 7 aboard a U.S. Air Force plane with permission to stay for a week, remained at a luxury Alpine hotel as intensive diplomatic efforts continued to find him a permanent place of refuge.
The former dictator's French lawyer, Sauveur Vaisse, said that the negotiations appeared to have reached a "dead end" following a State Department announcement that Duvalier would not be allowed into the United States.
In response to queries in Washington just after midnight, a department spokeswoman said that "under U.S. law and regulations," Duvalier "is inadmissible as an undesirable and undocumented alien." Officials here and in Washington said that French and American hopes of finding him a permanent home continued to center on the west African nation of Liberia.
Duvalier and three members of his family were booked on Air France's 1 p.m. flight from Paris to New York, but the deposed president never left the French lakeside resort of Talloires. Airline officials said the reservations were later canceled.
Speaking to journalists in Talloires, Vaisse said the French government had indeed made plans for Duvalier's departure today but that the United States had refused to accept him. He said that his client was bewildered by the negotiations for his future, which were taking place "over his head."
The latest confusion appeared to reflect misunderstandings between Washington and Paris about Duvalier's hurried departure from Haiti and "transit" through France. Now that the dictator has overstayed his original week-long entry permit, the official French view is that it is up to the United States to come up rapidly with a permanent place of exile.
"The French do not like the feeling that someone can be dumped on them. They want to let Washington know that, in their opinion, the United States has so far not fulfilled its side of the bargain," a western diplomat here said.
Diplomatic sources said that high-level contacts between Washington and Paris continued throughout last night and today in an attempt to resolve the impasse.
It was learned that Secretary of State George P. Shultz called French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas between 4 and 5 this morning (10-11 p.m. Saturday, Washington time) to discuss the Duvalier case.
It was after Shultz asked for another day to find a new refuge for Duvalier outside the United States that the French changed their minds about putting him on a plane for New York, according to an informed source.
In the early-morning State Department statements, the first definitively barring Duvalier, spokeswoman Anita Stockman declared: "He cannot legally enter the United States. He will not be admitted. Duvalier does not have a valid U.S. visa."
Stockman said that should Duvalier get in somehow, he could expect to be extradited to Haiti "at some future date." In response to another press query, she noted, "There is a large Haitian exile community in the U.S. Security would be a major problem for Duvalier here."
Yesterday, Stockman had said only that the department was "not aware" of Duvalier's coming. Explaining the shift today, Stockman said she had sought new guidance to respond to late-night inquiries triggered by The Washington Post's story detailing French plans to put Duvalier aboard a U.S.-bound plane.
In Talloires, journalists maintaining a vigil outside Duvalier's hotel had quoted police sources as saying preparations were made for a government plane to take the deposed dictator to Paris, where he was to board the Air France flight to New York.
The plan was reportedly abandoned shortly before 6 a.m., on instructions from Paris.
According to Agence France-Presse, Duvalier had been given a choice on Friday night by the French Foreign Ministry between going to Liberia and the United States.
After the dictator rejected Liberia on the grounds that his security could not be guaranteed there, plans were made to send him to the United States, the news agency reported.
Sources here with knowledge of the case said that both France and the United States now seemed ready to apply pressure to Duvalier to reconsider his previous rejection of Liberia as a place of exile.
Vaisse said that the country Duvalier really wanted to stay in was France. "He likes our country very much. He wants to forget, to study, and then to start again in life," the lawyer said.