Clinton Mulls Cuba Sanctions: Castro Defends Shooting Down Civilian Planes
Bedard, Paul, Carter, Tom, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
The Clinton administration yesterday threatened sanctions against Cuba in retaliation for the downing of two civilian American aircraft, calling the attack a "blatant violation of international law."
But Fidel Castro's government in Havana said Saturday's attack was justified and Cuba would "adopt all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty."
At an impromptu White House news conference, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said two airplanes shot down by a Cuban MiG-29 were well outside Cuban airspace. He said President Clinton was planning to announce retaliatory measures in the form of economic sanctions today.
"This violation [of international aviation law] will not go unanswered," Mr. Christopher said. "We're satisfied that the planes were in international waters at the time they were shot down.
"It is clear that the Cuban actions yesterday were a blatant violation of international law and a violation of the norms of civilized behavior. Cuban explanations of why they took the actions they did are neither plausible nor acceptable."
After a high-level White House national security meeting that lasted three hours, Mr. Clinton asked U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright to call for an emergency session of the Security Council to consider economic and military action against Cuba.
But Mr. Christopher said the United States will also consider independent actions against Cuba and its communist president.
White House National Security Adviser Anthony Lake yesterday presented Mr. Clinton with a "range of options" from which he plans to pick today.
* Restricting commercial flights between Miami and Havana.
* Ending cash shipments from Cuban-Americans to Cuba via Western Union.
* Reversing a Clinton plan to exchange media outlets, thus letting U.S. journalists operate in Havana and Cubans in Washington and New York.
* Accepting provisions in a bill written by Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, and Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, that would tighten the 34-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba by denying Cuba foreign investment.
* Military retaliation against a MiG base in Cuba.
* A U.S. naval blockade, such as the one against Haiti's military junta.
A senior administration official said Mr. Clinton was likely only to enact economic sanctions and not engage Cuba militarily.
Mr. Christopher rejected charges that the administration had softened its approach to Mr. Castro or was in any way responsible for the attack.
Jorge Llares, spokesman for Brothers to the Rescue, a Miami-based group of volunteer pilots who fly the Florida Straits three times a week to search for rafters fleeing the island, said the crews of the planes were all were members of the group.
According to an administration "time line," the three aircraft left the Opa-locka airfield in Florida between 1:15 p.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday.
At 2:57 p.m., when they contacted Cuban air traffic officials, the pilots were warned of the "danger in operating" in the area some 20 miles from Cuban shores, said an administration official.
The group of fliers "made it clear that it was aware of the danger but it was flying in anyway," said the official.
Only one aircraft made it into Cuban air space before turning around. U.S. officials said it flew 3 miles into Cuban air space, which extends 12 miles from Cuba's shores. Ironically, it was the only aircraft to escape the MiG-29, said Clinton aides.
At 3:20 p.m., the pilot of the Soviet-built MiG-29 - accompanied by an older MiG-23 - spotted the second aircraft from the Brothers group and four minutes later sought and was granted permission to fire an air-to-air missile. …