NEW YORK -- The United States offered Cuba a sweeter deal yesterday in an effort to resolve the diplomatic impasse over the outpouring of Cuban raft people that is embarrassing both Fidel Castro and President Clinton.
No details of the compromise proposal were released. But a U.S. official acknowledged that it involved an increase in the original U.S. offer to grant more than 20,000 visas a year to Cuban immigrants in exchange for President Castro's pledge to keep his citizens from taking to the high seas illegally.
Michael Skol, deputy assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, handed over a document outlining the proposal in a meeting with Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly and former foreign minister. The two met for a little more than an hour at the apartment building in downtown Manhattan that houses the Cuban Mission to the United Nations. It was the fourth round in the negotiations that began Thursday.
There was no report on Mr. Alarcon's reaction. The two officials decided that they would meet again today accompanied by their full delegations. Mr. Alarcon is expected to give his reply to the U.S. offer then.
In Havana, Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina told reporters that the talks were "stalled, with no positive signals to note." But his assessment was made before the Labor Day negotiating session had ended in New York.
After receiving the original U.S. proposal to grant more than 20,000 visas to Cubans who want to immigrate to the United States, the Cubans countered with a demand for well over 100,000 visas, U.S. officials said. The figure was apparently designed to underscore what Mr. Castro regards as a U.S. failure to live up to an earlier agreement to accept Cuban immigrants.
In 1984, the Reagan administration signed an agreement that allowed the United States to process for Cubans a maximum of 27,875 immigrant visas a year. In practice, the United States has admitted only 3,000 or so each year. Washington has maintained that the other applicants did not satisfy the requirements of U.S. immigration law.
The Cuban government insists that the United States reneged on the 1984 agreement, and should admit all Cubans who applied but failed to receive visas since then. That presumably involves a total of well over 100,000.
A U.S. official described Washington's sweetened offer as "a responsible proposal to meet both sides' objectives."
He did not elaborate but noted that the U.S. negotiators are suggesting that the two sides regard the number of visas specified in the proposal as "a floor, not a ceiling." The official described the talks as caught "in a holding pattern," pending a response from the Cubans to the latest U.S. offer.
Clusters of chanting Cuban-Americans massed yesterday across the street from the Cuban Mission and shouted "Down with Castro."
By yesterday evening, the U.S. Coast Guard had picked up 980 more Cubans at sea. They will join more than 14,000 other Cuban refugees being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, along with Haitian refugees.
At the base Sunday, Haitian refugees threw rocks at U.S. soldiers to protest what they saw as preferential treatment for the Cubans.
About 50 Haitians breached one of the camp's fences when Panama announced that it would accept up to 10,000 Cubans to ease the strain on the overcrowded base, base spokesman Maj. Rick Thomas said yesterday.
When a security force was called in, the Haitians began throwing rocks, he said. A 16-year-old Haitian boy suffered a skull fracture when he was hit by a rock, and six Army soldiers also were injured. The boy was taken to Florida for treatment.