Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday that Haitian authorities must move quickly if they are to hold free and fair national elections by Nov. 20 as planned.
Rice met with Haiti's appointed leaders, interim President Boniface Alexandre and interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, during a day-long visit designed to show support for Haiti's attempts to overcome years of political instability.
The election process "must be open, inclusive and fair," she said at a news conference at the presidential palace.
With the elections less than eight weeks away, Rice said Haitian authorities must make decisions about where to place polling booths and make full use of services provided by the United Nations, the Organization of American States and other institutions.
Repeated efforts to install stable constitutional rule in Haiti have failed over the years, but U.S. officials are hoping that the work of U.N. peacekeepers has opened a path toward democracy.
The Bush administration has provided more than $100 million in assistance since Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced from the presidency and fled the country in February 2004 during an armed revolt against his rule. Ten years earlier, President Bill Clinton had sent 20,000 U.S. troops to reinstate Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president, who had been overthrown in a military coup after seven months in power.
The State Department did not announce Rice's trip until less than 24 hours before her departure Tuesday, a sign of uneasiness about the potential for violence.