WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Increasing the likelihood of a U.S.-led invasion of Haiti, President Clinton is considering military action to stabilize that country even if its top three leaders yield power voluntarily.
Previously, U.S. officials had said that if the military leaders left, only a 6,000-troop United Nations force would enter Haiti to retrain the military and develop a civilian police force, and would not be expected to fight.
But a senior administration official laid out another possibility yesterday. A U.S.-led military coalition could mount an invasion, or "non-permissive entry," even if the leaders stepped aside, he said.
Last week's U.N. Security Council resolution allows a U.S.-led force "to go in and remove the military leaders and reinstitute constitutional government," said the official, a key policy-maker on Haiti.
"It could also mean that if the military leaders left but there would still, in the most likely of circumstances, be an unstable situation, we would anticipate that the coalition would come into that situation.
"The coalition could either go in to remove the military leaders, or it could go in when they had stepped aside," he said.
Besides restoring stability, the invasion force would "begin the process of working with the military and the police that ultimately would be taken over by the U.N. mission."
Without the need to remove the military leadership, an invasion force "could be smaller." The administration previously put the invasion force at 15,000-16,000, although the figure may be revised.
The broadened scope of an invasion appears to recognize that even with the departure of Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the army commander; Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, the army chief of staff; and Lt. Col. Joseph Michel Francois, the national police chief, there could be armed elements opposed to restoring democracy and the exiled elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Alternately, the military could retain tight control over the country.
The senior official's comments reflected a heightened White House determination to resolve the Haiti crisis since last week, when President Clinton, at a news conference, ignored a chance to step up the rhetorical pressure. His reticence seemed to reflect tactical divisions within the administration and strong opposition to an invasion within the Pentagon.
The administration still hasn't set a deadline, in part to avoid also granting a grace period, and an invasion appears to be weeks off:
* First, the official said, a final stage of economic sanctions has yet to kick in. This will occur when the United States dispatches 70-80 monitors and communications equipment to the Dominican Republic to help seal its border with Haiti, a leaky smuggling area.
Besides adding to the country's general economic squeeze, this step will deprive Haiti's leaders and small-business elite of profits from the distribution of gasoline and other contraband.
* Second, the United States has yet to assemble and train a coalition of forces that would participate in an invasion.
A diplomatic team is being sent to the Caribbean next week to persuade other countries to join. Belize and perhaps the Bahamas are believed to be willing. Argentina, despite its refusal now, may join. But the force would be overwhelmingly American.
A number of countries are believed willing to join a post-invasion U.N. force.
"Clearly there is a dynamic, if not a deadline," the official said. "We can't go on indefinitely."
The president's advisers have recommended that he dispatch a high-level envoy to Haiti before an invasion is ordered.
While Mr. Clinton "is determined to exhaust every alternative short of force," the official voiced doubt that General Cedras and his colleagues would leave unless an invasion was certain.
It is "only when they conclude there is no way out that there is a chance they will decide to leave," he said.