WASHINGTON -- With U.S. forces in Haiti now outnumbering those of its dictators, the Clinton administration began exploiting a big loophole yesterday in the deal that Jimmy Carter struck Sunday, stepping up pressure on Haitian military leaders to leave the country.
The administration appears to be using the Carter agreement as something of a Trojan horse -- a sleight of hand to get thousands of U.S. troops into Haiti in a few days without resistance.
Although the Carter pact calls for an amnesty for Haiti's military leaders, State Department spokesman Michael McCurry said that the United States would not recognize any such law unless the Haitian Parliament was first convened by the democratically elected president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Seeking to pre-empt any move by the dictators to arrange for their own amnesty, Father Aristide prepared last night to convene Parliament within days to discuss the amnesty question.
A senior U.S. official who met with him promised to guarantee the safety of exiled lawmakers who support Father Aristide when they return to debate and vote on the issue.
Father Aristide's aim appeared to be for the Parliament to draft a narrow amnesty law that would avoid letting the military leaders off the hook for a wide range of crimes and, therefore, pressure them to leave the country.
An adviser to Father Aristide, Michael Barnes, a former Maryland congressman, has said that he personally views a broad amnesty as "disgusting" because it would allow Haitian military leaders to escape punishment for a reign of terror, murders and rapes.
The lack of a general amnesty would mean that Haiti's military commander, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, and his deputy, Brig. Gen. PTC Philippe Biamby, would be subject to prosecution once Father Aristide returns to head the country's civilian government.
For the Clinton administration, two aspects of the Carter agreement count: the Haitian military leaders' pledge to cooperate with U.S. military forces and their promise to give up power by Oct. 15.
The first goal already has been accomplished. U.S. soldiers began landing in Haiti Monday without firing a shot. By last night, 10,000 were to have arrived, the Pentagon said.
U.S. officials say that overwhelming force -- matched against an ill-equipped Haitian army of 7,000 that already has lost control of its heavy weaponry -- will ensure that Generals Cedras and Biamby step aside by Oct. 15.
The Carter team persuaded President Clinton to accept the deal by arguing that, whatever its imperfections, it would allow U.S. troops to take over the country without bloodshed.
Retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Mr. Clinton by phone from Haiti Sunday that once the U.S. forces were in, the United States would control the high ground.
But the agreement also called for a "general amnesty" for General Cedras and his military allies for toppling of Father Aristide in 1991 and for any crimes committed thereafter.
The document was signed "in the name of the president of the United States of America, William Jefferson Clinton," by Mr. Carter.
Emile Jonassaint, the regime's president, who is not recognized internationally, signed for the Haitians.
The deal drew widespread criticism for failing to require the dictators to leave the country after their retirement.
Mr. Carter has said that he was not instructed to negotiate the military leaders' departure from Haiti, and he predicted in an NBC News interview aired last night that the junta would fade into "relative obscurity."
The administration has said repeatedly that "as a practical matter" the Haitian military leaders probably would leave. A key reason is a loophole in the amnesty provision that State Department officials, many of whom disliked the Carter agreement to begin with, have seized upon.
Haiti essentially has two Parliaments, and the agreement did not say which would vote on the amnesty law. The "legitimate" body, elected during Haiti's brief period of democratic rule, includes a number of Aristide supporters who have fled into exile or into hiding.
Since January 1993, a new Parliament has been operating, with some members elected in an election staged by the military rulers. None of those new members is recognized internationally as legitimate.
The army-backed government of Mr. Jonassaint said yesterday that it would convene the existing Parliament to discuss amnesty. But Mr. McCurry said that "since they are out of session at this point, it will be up to President Aristide to convoke a special session of the Haitian Parliament.
"Absent that, there is, you know, people pretending to hold office who are talking about amnesty," Mr. McCurry said.
Asked whether a generalized amnesty law that is being prepared by the Haitian Senate was acceptable, Mr. McCurry replied, "No, I don't want to be too strident, but that has the air of illegitimacy about it."
He also noted pointedly that U.S. forces were now in Haiti not because of the Carter agreement but under the authority of a United Nations Security Council resolution.
He said that there are "arrangements which the United States agreed to pursuant to the negotiations that President Carter conducted," but these "relate to the departure [from] power of Cedras and the other military leaders of Haiti."