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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

White House Press Briefing

Aired March 1, 2004 - 13:23   ET

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

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Live pictures now from the White House, Scott McClellan beginning his briefing.
He was asked about these reports that swirling around that Aristide might have been abducted out of Port-au-Prince, Scott calling them essentially nonsense.

Let's listen.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't know what that's referring to. I have no idea what that's referring to.

QUESTION: Well, the idea is that some of his security people were told the United States would not protect him if there was trouble.

MCCLELLAN: Well, as you will recall, we were actively engaged with our international partners to bring about a democratic, constitutional and peaceful solution to the situation in Haiti. That's where we were.

Obviously, there were a lot of events that were of Mr. Aristide's own making that led to the political crisis in Haiti to begin with.

QUESTION: Congresswoman Maxine Waters told us that she had spoken directly with Aristide, who claims over and over again saying he was kidnapped, that the coup was completed by the Americans, they forced him out, they disabled his American security force; basically saying that he did not resign, he was forced out, America completed the coup.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: I think I just answered a question to that effect. As I said, it's nonsense, and conspiracy theories like that do nothing to help the Haitian people realize the future that they aspire to, which is a better future, a more free future and a more prosperous future.

We took steps to protect Mr. Aristide. We took steps to protect his family as they departed Haiti. It was Mr. Aristide's decision to resign, and he spelled out his reasons why.

QUESTION: Yes, but there were some third-party reports that were coming out of Haiti which could be specious as they go up the telephone chain, but this is coming directly from Aristide. What do you think he's up to here? Is he trying to save face? MCCLELLAN: I don't speak for Mr. Aristide, I speak for the president and this administration.

QUESTION: Are you denying that he was kidnapped?

MCCLELLAN: Yes, I just said it's complete nonsense.

QUESTION: Why don't you just say it didn't...

MCCLELLAN: I think I just did. I just said it's complete nonsense.

QUESTION: What steps were taken to protect him? And could this have been misconstrued by Aristide?

MCCLELLAN: One -- you know, again, I've only seen the report that John referenced, so you all might want to check further into that yourself -- but it was Saturday evening that President Aristide's office contacted Ambassador Foley, our ambassador in Haiti, and they asked at that point, if Mr. Aristide resigned, would the United States be able to protect him, his family and his property. And they also asked if we could help facilitate his departure.

Ambassador Foley at that point contacted the Department of State and consulted with both Secretary Powell and Assistant Secretary Noriega. And following that consultation, Ambassador Foley called back to Mr. Aristide's office to say that if he decided to leave, the United States could facilitate his departure, and we did.

QUESTION: Given the failure of U.S. policy in the past -- not this administration necessarily but others going way back -- in Haiti to make that a stable prosperous country, is the president more hopeful now? Has the United States learned lessons from the past?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think you point out something. One, right now our focus our remains on bringing about a democratic and constitutional resolution to the situation in Haiti and helping to bring about order and stability in the country. We are working on what is in the best interest of Haitian people as expressed by the Haitian people.

I think the events that you referenced have been a long time in the making. The political stalemate which followed the flawed 2000 legislative elections was central to the crisis. But at the most basic level, recent events were rooted in Mr. Aristide's choices as a leader in the way he exercised the power of his office.

And so that's why we pointed over the weekend that this was a long-simmering crisis largely of Mr. Aristide's making. He failed to adhere to democratic principles, which contributed to the deep polarization and violence in Haiti. And his own actions called into question his fitness and ability to continue to govern Haiti.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Live from the White House briefing there. Aristide abducted or just trying to save face? You just heard White House press secretary Scott McClellan. He said absolutely, it's complete nonsense. However Aristide's people are sticking to this.

OK. We had a sound byte with Aristide's attorney. I guess we'll try to get to that into the interview.

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