Attorney General Janet Reno said she intends to hand over Elian Gonzalez to his father this week for a return to Cuba, and said she anticipates the boy and his father would remain in this country until a legal battle over custody is concluded, but she offered no assurances.
Meanwhile, Eric Holder, the deputy attorney general who has taken a particularly harsh line in the controversy, said the government "will do what is necessary" to reunite Elian Gonzalez with his father soon.
NBC News reported that Mr. Gonzalez's family members, including his mother, have been taken to a compound in Havana, presumably as a precaution against the father's defecting while in the United States. The president of Cuba's National Assembly, asked about this yesterday on ABC-TV, dismissed the report as "rhetoric" but avoided giving a direct answer to the question.
Both Miss Reno and Mr. Holder made the rounds of talk shows yesterday. Interviewed on ABC's "This Week," Miss Reno said Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, has "already indicated that he would stay [in the United States] if he could have the child turned over in a thoughtful, careful way.
"We're trying to work through those issues to see that that happens," she said.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," the father's attorney, Gregory Craig, said his client expressed a willingness to stay in the United States if he got adequate support for an appeals process Mr. Craig believes could last eight to 10 months.
As for when Mr. Gonzalez and Elian will be reunited, Miss Reno said, "I think we must get this resolved as soon as possible. . . . We're going to proceed this week to make sure that this little boy has a chance to be with his father."
For that to happen, Elian will have to be surrendered by or taken away from some relatives in Miami's Little Havana, who have been caring for him since he was rescued near the South Florida coast on Thanksgiving Day. His mother drowned when a boat in which she, Elian and others fleeing Cuba capsized during a storm. Elian was found floating in an inner tube by two fishermen, who got to meet with the boy's father yesterday in the Washington office of his attorney, Mr. Craig.
The boy's Miami relatives - like most Cuban-Americans in that city - want Elian to remain in the United States, and they are seeking custody of him. But his father, who came to this country Thursday with his current wife and their infant, wants to reclaim his son and wants to return him to Cuba.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service and Miss Reno say Elian belongs with his father.
There have been concerns law enforcement agents might have to use force to retrieve Elian, given the crowds of Cuban-American demonstrators who oppose returning him to Cuba. The Cuban exiles who fled Fidel Castro's communist tyranny say it's wrong to send Elian back to that dictatorship, when his mother died trying to get him out of there.
Justice Department officials yesterday reiterated that no plans to use force have been presented or approved.