By Frank Davies, Herald Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 24, 1998, In The Miami Herald
WASHINGTON -- Emboldened by 21 senators and prominent Republicans calling
for a thorough review of U.S. policy toward Cuba, White House officials are
considering a proposal to create a bipartisan commission to do that -- despite
the political risks involved.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright plans to meet this morning with the
three Cuban Americans in Congress to discuss U.S.-Cuba issues, and the recent
push for a commission is sure to come up.
James Rubin, State Department spokesman, said Monday that ``we see some
merit in the idea, provided the mandate and the membership and terms were
Embargo's the key issue
For more than a month the White House has held a letter signed by 12
Republicans in the Senate and supported by former GOP officials, including three
ex-secretaries of state -- Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Lawrence
Eagleburger. The essence of their message: Take a hard look at the U.S. embargo
against Cuba and whether it is effective.
``More and more Americans are becoming concerned about the far-reaching
effects of our policy on U.S. interests and the Cuban people,'' wrote Sen. John
Warner, R-Va., in a letter to President Clinton signed by such conservative
Republicans as Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security advisor, said recently that
Warner's recommendation ``is under review.'' A spokesman for Vice President Al
Gore, Tom Rosshirt, said Monday that Gore and other members of the
administration's foreign policy team are carefully studying it.
Economic agenda alleged
But the three Cuban Americans in the House say that the idea for a
commission comes with an economic agenda -- corporate interests, represented by
Kissinger and other Republicans, coveting the Cuban market. Kissinger, for
example, sits on the board of Continental Grain, which sent executives to Cuba
in March to attend a business summit with government officials.
``The people pushing this have big dollar signs on their foreheads,'' said
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican.
Rep. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, noted that many of the Republican
senators who signed the letter are from agricultural states where farming
interests don't want to be shut out of Cuba.
Possible political cost
Menendez also cited a political cost if the Democratic administration takes
any move away from a hard line on Cuba: ``I don't see any point in us
[Democrats] just chalking off Florida and New Jersey and still having a good
chance of winning'' the next presidential election.
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, said, ``Gore clearly has the
power to stop this commission.''
Some students of Cuba policy say, however, that the time may be right for a
shift in policy -- and a commission backed by high-profile Republicans may be
the way to do it.
`The timing is good'
``The timing is good, and this would give the administration the political
cover it needs,'' said Shawn Malone, the associate director of the Caribbean
Project at Georgetown University. ``The mere creation of a commission would not
hurt Gore if they did it in a balanced way.''
Sen. Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat with close ties to the White House,
doesn't think any major shift in policy is imminent. And he said that Cuba
issues, such as the Helms-Burton Act tightening economic pressure on the island,
have been thoroughly debated in Congress.
``What is it about Cuba policy that warrants this unique method, outside
normal channels, to handle it?'' he said Monday. ``I don't see it.''
Some of the backers of the commission say the embargo is a relic that has
failed to dislodge Castro, and that such a panel could study a wide range of
policy options dispassionately.
And one former high-ranking official in the Bush administration, Brent
Scowcroft, said in a recent interview that Cuba ``is a domestic issue for the
United States and not a foreign policy issue.
``It focuses more on votes in Florida than it does on what to do with
Castro,'' said Scowcroft, Bush's national security advisor. ``We're not going to
kill him with the embargo.''
Donna Leinwand of The Herald's Washington Bureau contributed to this report.
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald