Clinton compromise on Cuba sanctions draws muted praise

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Clinton’s attempt to occupy the middle ground on Cuba sanctions legislation is drawing muted praise from some NATO allies and an influential Cuban-American leader. But Republican lawmakers say Clinton is caving in to foreign pressure and coddling Fidel Castro.
“Character of Jell-O. Backbone of Jell-O,” Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart, R-Fla., said of Clinton on Tuesday after learning of his decision.
Republicans had been demanding immediate enforcement of a key provision of recently enacted Cuban sanctions legislation. It would allow Americans whose property was confiscated in Cuba to sue foreign businesses which are “trafficking” in these assets.
It was widely believed that Clinton, facing a Tuesday deadline, would either give the green light to the provision or exercise his right to waive it. In the end, Clinton granted the right to sue, but then imposed a six month waiver on any legal action effectively deferring the emotion-charged issue until well after the November election.
Clinton said his action with the threat of lawsuits should spur America’s allies to join the United States in pressuring Castro to embrace democratic and economic reforms. “By working with our allies not against them we will avoid a split that the Cuban regime will be sure to exploit,” the president said.
Samuel Berger, the president’s deputy national security adviser, said Clinton’s approach uses the law “not as a sledgehammer but as a lever to promote democracy in Cuba.” He said, “The threat of liability is real” for foreign companies operating in Cuba. U.S. officials believe more than 100 foreign firms are operating on confiscated property.
Clinton’s maneuver drew the wrath of the two principal authors of the legislation Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Rep. Dan. Burton, R-Ind.
Helms said, “President Clinton has once again taken a firm stand on both sides of an important issue. While today’s announcement contains tough anti-Castro rhetoric, it is all talk and no substance.”
The president “capitulated to Fidel Castro and his foreign business collaborators,” Helms said.
Burton said that Clinton, “in effect, caved in to foreign countries that have essentially bought stolen American property.”
But Jorge Mas Canosa, head of the wealthiest and most powerful Cuban exile group in Miami, struck a more upbeat tone.
“The law will be enforced,” Mas Canosa said. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Lukewarm praise was heard from Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who led the fight in the Senate against the Helms-Burton law. Dodd said he would have preferred full suspension of the provision but that the action Clinton took was laudable.
“I commend the president for his prudent actions,” he said.
European nations had threatened severe countermeasures against the United States if Clinton permitted immediate enforcement of the provision, also known as Title III.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, said Tuesday night Clinton’s decision is welcome as far as it goes. It noted that “the damaging extraterritorial reach of the Helms-Burton law remains intact.”
The commission said it will keep the issue under urgent consideration.
Canadian Trade Minister Art Eggleton welcomed Clinton’s decision to defer any lawsuits, saying it was clear Washington had “got the message” from angry allies.
Eggleton said Canada would decide by July 29 whether to proceed with a formal complaint charging that Helms-Burton violates provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The allies have complained not only about Title III but also Title IV, under which foreign business executives who operate on confiscated property in Cuba can be barred from the United States. Implementation of Title IV is expected to begin next month.