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Breaking News

Elian Gonzalez and Entourage Leave for Dulles Airport

Aired June 28, 2000 - 2:44 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Bob Franken is at Rosedale Estates in tony Washington, D.C., where the family, as we've seen, Bob, have been hauling suitcases out to a van out in front of the house.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's certain choreography that occurs, of course, under circumstances like this, when there's going to be a movement of the importance of this. has been quite a slow dance. The security has been beefed-up for hours. The exchange of gifts has taken place inside the estate. This estate is owned in Northwest Washington by an organization called the Youth for Understanding International Exchange.

It's been the host now for a little bit over a month of Juan Gonzalez and his son, Elian Gonzalez, and the entourage of Cubans who came up to accompany him. It also is very close to the home of his lawyer, Greg Craig. Craig is, by the way, on the property right now. You can see, of course, a movement of vehicles in and out. The motorcycle policemen from the Metropolitan Police Department are getting prepared. You can see an overhead shot now of the movement that's going on, on the actual estate.

Now, what has been going on in the last short while is an exchange of gifts. The children who were representing the Youth for Understanding presented the Cuban children with a set of books. In return, Juan Miguel Gonzalez gave the organization two flags.

And he put out a statement. I'd like to read just a little bit of it. This is quoting Juan Miguel Gonzalez: "With much love and affection, I'm very appreciative," saying to the group, "of your great humanitarianism and warmth. I'm so proud to have met so many marvelous friends, and I will carry many memories of them with me as I leave. And you, all your people have a great example." He goes on to say: "I am leaving you with two Cuban flags, one big one and a little one as a token of the first step in the direction of a human and beautiful relationship between our two countries. Many thanks for all your kindness."

Now, we are expecting that once this group leaves here, the motorcade leaves this estate, it will proceed to Dulles Airport, which is the international airport outside Washington. Now, no matter how important people are, when they come in and out of the United States, there is paperwork to do. And that paperwork, we're told, will be handled by the custom service, etcetera, at Dulles airport. Then, Mr. Gonzalez, Juan Gonzalez, is expected to make a statement to the American people, which is going to reflect, we're told, the same kind of warmth, the same kind of thank you to the United States for being such hospitable hosts, and of course, gratitude and anxiety to get out of the U.S. and get back home to Cuba as quickly as possible -- Lou.

WATERS: Yes, Bob, while you've been speaking, we are watching the family and friends beneath the patio to the rear of the estate, staying out of the rain today, we presume. But they certainly are aware of the attention being paid them today. People are being dragged out from inside the house to look up and wave at the WTTG helicopter.

FRANKEN: Well, I think there are two things going on. On the one hand, they're aware of the news coverage, and probably aware of the importance of their role. But frankly, they're probably also quite intrigued by watching the news cameras watching them, watching all the hubbub, watching the media coverage. After all, many of these are just children. And I can tell that, as this procedure has gone on, many of the people in the neighborhoods where we've been, have had their children come in and look at our satellite trucks; a normal reaction.

In English and Spanish, it's something like this: cool.

WATERS: Has this at all been disruptive to that neighborhood, the way that the presence of Elian was disruptive down in Little Havana?

FRANKEN: Well, let's -- it's a little bit different kind of disruption. But let's face it: When all of a sudden, a dozen satellite trucks show up in your neighborhood, particularly one where it's usually very, very, very quiet, you bet it's disruptive. And the neighbors react in different ways. Some of them are not at all pleased that everybody is here. They're going to be basically be saying good riddance. Others have been quite curious, and sort of enjoyed all the attention.

WATERS: OK, Bob Franken up at Rosedale Estates there in Washington, watching the imminent departure of the Gonzalez family, as they make their way, slowly but surely, back to Cuba; arrival time sometime this evening in Havana.

Natalie, what's next?

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: They're expected to leave the estate here shortly. We have seen bags loaded onto vans. And then they are expected to head to Dulles Airport for the flight back to Cuba.

And that is where we find CNN's Kate Snow with more about that -- Kate.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, it will take a good half an hour to get where I am at Dulles International Airport, especially with rush hour traffic in the Washington, D.C. area. Right now, we have a jet pulling in right behind me here. It is one of the two jets that will take the group back to Cuba. We understand these two planes are coming in from New York. They are privately chartered planes; one of them a Lear jet, the other one a Hawker, a type of small commuter plane. Both of them seat about eight people.

Now this group, again, is not just the Gonzalez family. You remember they had a group of Cubans come to visit them. Well, they are still here as well. So they will be all going back at once. We have a group of 14 people. We expect the Gonzalez family, the teacher of Elian, and also the cousin of Elian -- his favorite cousin -- to be on one of these planes. And we expect on the other plane, the four students and their parents. There are four students and four parents that have been here for some time.

Now what happens when they get here, as Bob Franken mentioned, they will go onto a people-mover. It's behind me, over my shoulder here. It's a kind of movable lounge. They're going to go in there. They're going to complete some paperwork, including customs documents that they need to fill out before they can leave.

We do expect that Juan Miguel Gonzalez will come out to a podium that's been set up here and speak to the media. Now, that's significant because he has only spoken about three other times to the press. He's been very quiet. They've been very secluded the whole time they've been in Washington. In contrast to the treatment they got in Miami, Elian Gonzalez has not been on displayed here in Washington. The father's been reluctant to come out and speak to the cameras so we'll be anxious to hear what he has to say -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Kate Snow watching developments at Dulles Airport.

We're now going to take you to Miami, Little Havana. A few dozen people had gathered there earlier this afternoon, angry about this news, an impassioned story for so many people in Miami.

Mark Potter has received a statement now from Lazaro Gonzalez, Elian's great-uncle who cared for him for so many months and didn't want to see this day come -- Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Natalie. The statement that was issued by Armando Gutierrez, the spokesman for the Gonzalez family here in Miami, Elian's Miami relatives, and I'll just read it as we received it moments ago.

The statement from Armando Gutierrez says: "Man has decided but God will have the final ruling," said Gutierrez of the Gonzalez family's reaction to the Supreme Court decision not to hear the boy's case. Gutierrez noted that the family is urging the community to accept, as they do, the decision of the court; most of all, to remain calm.

However, according to Lazaro Gonzalez, the fight for Elian is not over. Said Gutierrez: "Of course the family is disappointed, but they believe in God and in the rule of law." That is verbatim the statement that we just received from Armando Gutierrez, spokesman for the Gonzalez family in Miami.

Now, here outside their home in Little Havana, some protesters have gathered to express their anger over the Supreme Court ruling. It's a very small crowd, only about a couple of dozen, maybe three dozen at most. I think they are probably outnumbered by the cameras and the reporters here. They're very quiet right now, actually. In fact, it's very quiet throughout the entire Miami community. There are no major demonstrations under way at all.

Earlier, there was some noise here. There was some shouting and some screaming, some concerns expressed about the Supreme Court ruling. There was even a scuffle. But this is not representative of the broader Miami Cuban-American community.

We saw the family at the house and then at the church, coming out of the church. Lazaro Gonzalez expressed some anger towards some of the photographers. The family had gone there to pray before the Supreme Court ruling. Lazaro was restrained by his daughter Marisleysis, the young woman who, for so long, cared for Elian Gonzalez when he was at the house here.

A spokesman for the family, again, Armando Gutierrez, said that the lawyers will be holding a news conference here in Miami at about 5:00 p.m. It's not known yet whether the family will actually participate.

Meanwhile, throughout the Cuban-American community in Miami, there was concern over this ruling, a concern felt by the political activists also, the people who fought so hard and for so long to keep Elian in the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This to us is not a political defeat. We are involved in a war. This is just a battle. This is a family tragedy for this community -- a family tragedy because it hurts each and every one of us. This child could have been my grandson, could have been one of my sons. So, for us, it's as if one of members of our family has been removed back to Cuba. After all the suffering our families have gone through and the reasons we had to come to this country in the first place, all this has been denied by the Clinton administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POTTER: Now, political activists here have not called for widespread community demonstrations. They say they are not expecting violence. The police department here says the same thing. They have seen no violence, they do not expect it to break out. Instead, the political activists here are urging Cuban-Americans to redouble their efforts now to bring freedom to Cuba. They are not surprised by this ruling from the Supreme Court. They expected it all along, but they are certainly disappointed.

Natalie, back to you.

ALLEN: And Mark, what about the family ties. The Miami relatives wanted so badly to be able to speak with Elian again after he was taken from their home. That didn't happen, Juan Miguel not wanting that to happen unless they dropped their pursuit to keep him here. Have any of them said now that this has apparently come to a close and Elian's going home whether they think that this family will be able to heal or they'll be able to talk to Elian once he's back in Cuba if they have a wish to?

POTTER: Natalie, we have not been able ask them that question. I'm sure that's paramount to them. This has been a major issue. They wrote letters, they contacted the lawyer for Juan Miguel, Elian's father, they clearly did want to see the boy and were disappointed to learn that the father's condition for seeing the boy was that they would have to drop their lawsuits, which they would not. That's something that we'll be asking them if they appear at 5:00. It's surely a major disappointment on top of the one they got today from the Supreme Court.

ALLEN: Mark Potter, live in Little Havana, we'll continue to stay in touch with you.

WATERS: From the Rosedale estates here in Washington, the Gonzalez family, the entourage consisting of not only Elian, his father, his stepmother, his half-brother and some school chums who were brought in from Cuba to play with Elian while he was here in the United States, will be headed by car caravan under police and federal escort to Dulles Airport outside Washington, where now on the tarmac is a chartered jet that will take the family back to Cuba.

There's no particular timetable here. This is a charter. However, there is a 4:00 p.m. deadline of sorts. Elian is to stay in the United States until 4:00 p.m. Eastern, as you know, because of the injunction issued earlier in these legal proceedings preventing him from leaving the United States. At 4:00 p.m. Eastern -- that's just one hour and four minutes from now -- that injunction will expire and the family will be free to go. Once they get out to the airport, they will have some final t's to cross and i's to dot on immigration forms, as everyone who is leaving the United States would have to do.

That's the only bit of official business left and then it's off to Cuba where CNN's Miami bureau chief John Zarrella is today in Havana.

John, what is expected at arrival, if anything?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Lou, I can bring you up to speed a little bit on what we're hearing out of Havana from Cuban television. They are reporting that the departure from Dulles Airport will take place at 5:30 p.m. Eastern time. So not at 4:01. It would seem to be cutting it pretty close now if that were to happen. So 5:30 is the departure time they're reporting on Cuban television.

And we are hearing from Cuban officials that this will be a family gathering at the airport when the plane does arrive here in Havana. It will be met by -- they will be met by members of Elian's family. Obviously his grandmothers will be there and others who are members of the family.

There are reports coming out of Cardenas, which is the hometown where Elian's family lives, that they broke into cheers and shouts of joy at announcement as word filtered to the community that the Supreme Court had released Elian to return to Cuba, and they are expecting his arrival there.

We believe the airport ceremony may last only about 10 minutes, and then we are under the impression, although it's not been confirmed by Cuban official, that they might go directly to Cardenas, Cuba -- Lou.

WATERS: John -- all right, hang on, John.

We've got some movement at Rosedale estates. Bob Franken is there.

It looks like process, final process, has begun.

FRANKEN: It has begun, Lou. What you're seeing outside the estate is the motorcycle policemen getting into position, squad cars getting into position to block off the street. As you see on the grounds of the estate, the final movement toward vehicles which is going to take them out of the Rosedale estate and on their way to Dulles Airport, on their way back to Cuba and on their way to the end of this drama which has gone on in the United States for seven months and three days.

About a month of that time has been spent here at this estate in northwest Washington which is owned by the Youth for Understanding. It's an international exchange group, and the entourage from Cuba was brought here from out in Maryland after the lawyer for the group, Greg Craig, decided that he really needed his client closer by. This, of course, this drama began on November 25 in Miami when Elian Gonzalez was rescued from the ocean and brought to this organization.

Now you can see that the police are asking everybody to move out of the way. That's the Metropolitan Police Department. The Marshals are getting into position, Marshals that have been station here for -- with Elian Gonzalez now for these many months.

On the driveway, you can see the motorcade has begun to form. There's a motorcycle policeman there. One of the things that they have to pay attention to is a very, very small group of people who are opposed to the fact that this is over. They're holding up signs. The police are paying very close attention to them to make sure that nothing toward happens with them.

On the estate grounds, you can see the final movements are beginning. They are going to be departing here and heading to Dulles Airport. They are keeping things in the dark officially, which way they're going to turn. But it's quite clear that they're going to try and avoid traffic. They've blocked -- they've blocked off the street. We've started to see some movement on the grounds of the estate. It's only going to take a few seconds for them to leave.

Normally, what you do is there's a sudden quick movement with lots of motorcycles, lots of sirens, that kind of thing. They don't want to take any chances.

That's the way it's been ever since Juan Gonzalez came to the United States in April and began a stay outside Washington in Bethesda at the Cuban interests section residence. That lasted until -- until he was reunited with his son, and then they moved out, far out into the countryside.

Now you can see perhaps that there is a movement of vehicles on the driveway. Again, all of this takes a little bit of time. It's quite a logistical operation. They're so concerned about having any soft of incident.

Here you can see now the motorcade beginning to leave the estate, heading to Dulles Airport, where they will begin the final process back to Cuba and the end of this drama.

You can see it going on now. The police are making sure that nobody violates the security. You can hear some applause. That applause is from the residents of the neighborhood, are so happy that this is over and that soon the cameras will be out of their neighborhood.

You can see this going on now. That's it. They're about to head to Dulles Airport and the next leg in this journey back to Cuba -- Lou.

WATERS: What we were seeing while you were talking, Bob, were some pictures from Dulles Airport where dogs are being used in a security operation out there.

We know it's rush hour there. How long does it take for them to get to Dulles?

FRANKEN: Well, when you have protection like this, you can move a lot more quickly. Probably about a half hour this way. I can tell you, it can take an awful lot longer when you don't have a police escort.

Normally, Lou, when I travel to Dulles, I don't have this kind of escort.

WATERS: Do you have any information from inside the compound today of how the family is addressing this trip back to Cuba? Has Elian been told?

FRANKEN: He has been told. It's quite interesting, as a matter of fact. The family -- quite interesting as a matter of fact. The family went to great pains to not raise his hopes. So they didn't tell him, we're told, immediately. They kept on thinking that there could be another glitch, which would stop this from happening. But we are also told that once it was all cleared up, then Elian Gonzalez was told, the family began a celebration. We have scenes of children letting balloons rise into the air. There was an exchange of gifts. The children who are here from the Youth for Understanding, which is the name of an organization that does international exchange programs, the owner of the estate, they gave some books to the children, including Elian Gonzalez, who have spent the time since May 25th here.

In return, Juan Gonzalez gave them two flags, a large Cuban flag and a smaller one. The smaller one a token of the small steps that have been taken for understanding between the two countries. He also thanked people saying he made many friends here.

We are told that when he gets to Dulles Airport, we can expect another statement. That one will be, among other things, to thank the American people for their hospitality, to say, however, that he's anxious to get back to Cuba and begin a normal life if they can.

WATERS: We just heard from John Zarrella down there in Havana, who said that the plan is for the Gonzalezes here to be met at the airport in Havana by members of Elian's family.

FRANKEN: Well, that would probably be most prominently the two grandmothers. You might recall, Lou, that they came to the United States at one point in the dead of winter, went up to Congress to ask for help from members of Congress, to plead with the American people for help.

That was, as I said, in December. Now here we are in June when this is finally over. It's been seven months and three days since Elian Gonzalez first came to the United States.

WATERS: I just had a thought, Bob. This might seem silly. But we've been -- we've been referring to 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez since last Thanksgiving. Has he had or is he about to have a birthday, or do you know?

FRANKEN: I believe it's not his birthday yet. I believe that his birthday may be a month or so away.

WATERS: And he'll celebrate in Cuba.

Again the earlier decision, late this morning Eastern Time by the United States Supreme Court was to deny two petitions from the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez: one to extend the injunction or the stay not allowing Elian to leave the country, a denial of that and a denial of an asylum hearing for the boy. And that has cleared the way for what we're seeing now: Elian Gonzalez, his father, his stepmother, his half brother, and his Cuban playmates are headed to Dulles Airport and then onto Cuba. .

ALLEN: Elian Gonzalez came to this country by way of boat and inner-tube. He's leaving by way of Lear jet. That jet has just arrived at Dulles Airport, and standing by is CNN's Kate Snow to tell us more about the departure plan -- Kate.

SNOW: Natalie, both of the jets have now arrived. You're taking a look at one of them over my shoulder here. We understand that they're going to split the party up. They're going to have the Elian Gonzalez family -- his father, his stepmother and his little half- brother -- on one plane along with his teacher and his favorite cousin, and then on the other plane, they'll have some of the Cuban classmates, who've been here in the Washington area for over a month now. They've been visiting Elian Gonzalez.

They will all go back at once on these two separate planes. Both came in from New York. One just landed about two minutes ago, and they are chartered privately. No word yet on who's paying for these planes.

We understand they will spend some time here at Dulles before they take off. We think they're going to spend some time in a sort of people mover. It's a mobile lounge that they've set up out here on the tarmac for them to use for their convenience. They're going to go into that lounge, they're going to complete some paperwork, they're going to go through the customs forms that everyone has to go through when they're leaving the United States.

We do expect Juan Miguel Gonzalez then to come out and speak before the cameras at some point in Spanish, in his native language. We expect there'll be a translator here. And we'll hear from him for the first time in a while.

He's only spoken a few others times while he's been here in the United States. He's been very careful not to say too much. His attorney has advised him not to do a lot of interviews, not to be very public. And they haven't paraded Elian around in public very much. So this is a different sort of scenario out here that we're going to hear from him today for probably the last time.

We also understand that they will be riding on these two planes possibly around 5 o'clock. That's not been confirmed yet. But that would mean they might spend about an hour and a half here on the tarmac -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Kate Snow there at Dulles. We don't expect Elian will be paraded around either when he arrives back in Cuba, at least that's the word from John Zarrella, who joins us from our Havana bureau -- John.

ZARRELLA: That's exactly right, Natalie. And by the way, Elian's birthday is December 6th. He celebrated his sixth birthday in December here back in the United States, and of course now his seventh birthday will be celebrated in Cardenas, Cuba back in his home town.

And you're right, absolutely, there will be no major celebrations when he arrives here in Havana. The Cuban government has been saying now the departure time is about 5:30. That's what Cuban television has been reporting, 5:30 from Dulles Airport. When he arrives here in Havana, there will be a family gathering, a family reunion at the airport, and that is what the Cuban government is saying. That is all it will be, perhaps about 10 minutes.

It is not clear whether anyone will speak at the airport in Havana when they arrive. After that, they will be whisked away, perhaps to a halfway house that's been set up outside of Havana. But more than likely, the latest indications are that they will go directly back to Cardenas, Cuba, which again is the home town. But they're keeping it very, very close to the vest, the Cuban government, as to exactly what the game plan will be there.

And there's no indication at this point that President Fidel Castro will be at that arrival ceremony this evening. The Cuban government is not saying at all what Mr. Castro's plans are for this evening or if he will just watch the events unfold from his television set somewhere on the island.

So again, expecting about a 5:30 departure time is what the Cuban government is reporting. No major ceremonies here planned in Cuba: the Cuban government saying they want the people to remain calm and to remain reserved, because this, they say, is only the beginning when Elian returns of their long struggle to continue fighting against the U.S. oppression, as they call it, which are all of the embargo and other legislation that has been enforced against them by the U.S. government over the past 40 years -- Natalie.

ALLEN: So for now a quiet reunion with family members there, John. Has -- do you know, down the road if the Castro government, or is it up to Juan Miguel, whether they'll let the media know how Elian's doing? He certainly is a little boy people who has -- people have seen him for many months here and heard so much about him, they'll probably be wondering how he's doing.

ZARRELLA: Well, I know the plan the Cuban government has, at least for the immediate future, is total seclusion. They are not going let the media anywhere near the boy. Whether Juan Miguel has any desire to talk to the media here in Cuba is, you know, anyone's guess. Our indications are that he is really tired of this whole affair, obviously, and he wants it all behind him. He wants to be together with his son, with his new wife, and to just get back to the normal lives that they led in Cardenas, Cuba.

Whether that will be possible, even with the Cuban government's security apparatus watching over them, is very difficult to say, whether the Cuban government will be able to secure them and keep the media from getting to them.

Again, you know, when his seventh birthday rolls around next December, there will be a tremendous amount of pressure, I'm sure, on the Cuban government to at least provide some pictures of Elian -- Elian Gonzalez.

Natalie.

ALLEN: John Zarrella in Havana. Thanks, John.

WATERS: Ask a question and you get an answer right away: December 6th birthday for Elian Gonzalez, when he will be seven. It just seems like longer, because this story has been going on for so long, since last Thanksgiving, when the young lad first arrived on the shores: a human interest story that became an international incident, which is ending today. Elian and his father and the rest of his family headed for Dulles Airport for a trip down to Havana, Cuba sometime, arriving early this evening.

Mark Potter is down in Little Havana, where we saw passions run high for so long. A sense of resignation today, Mark?

POTTER: Absolutely, Lou. You may be surprised to know that it's actually very quiet here now at the home in Miami's Little Havana which saw so much passion, which saw such big demonstrations in the months past. It's very quiet here. It's actually very quiet throughout the Miami community, according to news reports and according to the police department.

There's a small group of protesters here, maybe two dozen, three dozen maximum. One of the smallest groups we've ever seen here at this location. Very quiet now. An hour or so ago after receiving word of the Supreme Court ruling, however, things got a bit noisy. There was some yelling. There was a shouting match, even a bit of a scuffle. But things have actually quieted down and people are now just milling around waiting for the next developments.

The political leaders here in the Cuban-American community have not called for any major demonstrations. There are none scheduled. There may be one tonight of some size at a nearby island at a marina to redouble the community's efforts to fight for freedom in Cuba, but that's about it. No violence is expected and none has been reported by the Miami police department.

We have received a statement from the Gonzalez family this afternoon expressing their disappointment with the Supreme Court ruling. But they are urging the community to accept the ruling from the court as they say they have. And they are urging this community to remain calm. And those wishes are being followed.

The lawyers for the family will have a news conference around 5:00 Eastern time this afternoon a couple hours from now. Maybe we will hear from the family then to hear their reaction. This was not an unexpected ruling. The community here in Miami was bracing for this. They had been watching the way the courts had been ruling against the family. Political leaders, the radio stations, political activists all had been preparing the community for the likelihood that the Supreme Court would rule as it did. Nevertheless, today in the Cuban-American community in Miami there are widespread feelings of sadness and anger. Lou, back to you.

WATERS: Mark, you're standing in front of that house in Little Havana where there's been so much activity over the past few months, up through and including the now infamous raid by Immigration and Naturalization Service. What is it about that place, and is it empty now? Tell us a little bit about it.

POTTER: No, it's not empty. The family is still here, at least some of the family. Lazaro Gonzalez, the great uncle that we've come to know so well over the months, is still living here. His wife is here. Delfin Gonzalez, the other great uncle, is here. They are moving to another house but they are in the process of doing that, so they are still here. Marisleysis, the young woman -- Elian's cousin -- the young woman who has been caring for him has been staying at another house, but she was here today to come pick up some other relatives.

They all left the house earlier today to go to church. They spent some time there praying before the Supreme Court ruling. When Lazaro came out he was a bit angry with photographers for just a moment, and then was restrained by his daughter.

This house is a bit of a shrine, if you could understand that. This is a drawing point for the -- for some members of the Cuban- American community who want to express their concerns over this case and their concern for Elian Gonzalez. There are signs on the fence. There are flags. This is even a tourist destination. We've seen lot of people coming by here in slow moments shooting pictures. It's quite a draw in Miami. It's the area where so many people have gathered, but surprisingly today there are so few people here just as I said, two or three dozen at most.

WATERS: All right. Mark Potter keeping watch down in Little Havana. We are seeing the pictures of Elian Gonzalez and his family headed for Dulles Airport. We should mention that the legal team for Lazaro Gonzalez will be holding a news conference at 5 p.m. today down in Miami. So there will be more big boxes and little boxes your screen. There's a lot happening today -- Natalie.

ALLEN: President Clinton also held a one-hour news conference this afternoon from the East room of the White House. And he was asked about the Elian story and how this has ended, and what he thought about that. He was also asked: Is this the time to normalize relations with Cuba?

For the president's answers and comments let's turn to CNN's White House correspondent John King -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, this saga obviously not only an international incident between the United States and Cuba and one that turned the spotlight on U.S.-Cuba relations, also quite a domestic political controversy here in the United States. Mr. Clinton saying to reporters -- say that he hopes that that passes now, that he hopes in the United States the politicians will calm down.

The president asked about how the administration had handled this over the past several months. Remember, it's caused breaks even within the administration. The vice president breaking with the president's position. But the president supporting the long-held position -- his position that the young boy belongs with his father. Mr. Clinton said that Elian Gonzalez and his father were welcome to stay in the United States if they wanted to, but he also respected their decision to return home, as we see they are preparing to do.

Mr. Clinton again asked about how the administration had handled all this. He said it was a difficult case, but in his view the administration had just about done all it could.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do I wish it had unfolded in a less dramatic, less traumatic way for all concerned? Of course I do. I have replayed this in my mind many times. I don't know that we had many different options than we pursued, given how the thing developed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, the president hoping the Supreme Court decision and Elian Gonzalez's return to Cuba will quiet the domestic political controversy here in the United States. But at least in the short term, it appears that will not be the case. In the Congress today, a Cuban-American from the state of Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican giving again harsh criticism of the president's handling of this case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: It's certainly a lamentable decision, but I think it was a foregone conclusion for many weeks now that it was already a done deal. I mean, these discussions were taking place at the highest level. And we knew that once the Clinton administration was hell bent on sending him back it was just matter of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The president did open his door at his news conference to signing a legislative proposal making its way through the Congress that would ease some of the sanctions against the Castro government. The president saying he was willing to allow the sale of U.S.-grown food and U.S.-made medicines in Cuba.

Said he needed to look at the fine print, though, to make sure that that legislation did not infringe on his presidential abilities to conduct U.S. international policy. But the president saying it was no time to normalize relations with the Castro government. He said there was no consensus in the United States for that. And he put blame squarely on Mr. Castro saying progress was being made several years back, but then, he said, the Cuban air force shot down those planes carrying American citizens. Mr. Clinton called that murder, and said because of that, it was not time to normalize relations with the Castro government or take any more dramatic steps to change U.S. policy now of 4 years standing against the Castro government -- Natalie.

ALLEN: John King reporting from the White House.

WATERS: We continue watching the pictures. We understand now Elian Gonzalez and his family in that white sport-utility vehicle are approaching Dulles Airport. They're about 20 minutes out. We will continue keeping watch on the story while we remind you of yet to come today, is certain official business at the airport for the before the family will be allowed at any time after 4 p.m. Eastern time when the official injunction, or the stay preventing Elian from leaving the United States will be lifted. The family will then fly on to Havana, Cuba.

There's much reaction to come including a news conference scheduled for Miami from the legal team of Lazaro Gonzalez. He is the uncle that we know so well, who gave shelter to Elian in the early days before the raid, who issued a paper statement today saying: Now it's time to pray for Elian. There is a lot more reaction to all of this, not only the Supreme Court ruling but the entire international incident which is slowly drawing to a close as Elian prepares to say good-bye to America.

Bobbie Battista takes care of some of the reaction of the story and continues our extensive in-depth coverage on TALKBACK LIVE -- Bobbie.

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