CLINTON CUTS LINK TO CUBA.
Denouncing Cuba's downing of two private American planes as "a flagrant violation of international law," President Clinton suspended all air charter travel between the United States and the island Monday and pledged to reach agreement with Congress on a pending bill to tighten economic sanctions.
Clinton also asked Congress to pass legislation to use several million dollars of the $100 million in frozen Cuban assets in this country to compensate the families of the four anti-Castro Cuban-Americans presumed killed when their Cessnas were wiped out of the sky by missiles Saturday.
"Saturday's attack was an appalling reminder of the nature of the Cuban regime: repressive, violent, scornful of international law," the president said in an afternoon appearance in the White House briefing room after a 75-minute meeting with his national security advisers.
But despite his sharp words, Clinton's response was measured, reflecting the limited options at his disposal and what senior administration officials described as his belief that the best way to foster democratic reform in Cuba was to maintain the cultural, journalistic and humanitarian ties that the administration sought to promote when it eased travel restrictions in October.
At the same time, administration officials acknowledged that Cuba had been greatly exercised in recent weeks about flights by the anti-Castro group and that such flights had continued despite American warnings against them.
In the fall, the administration moved to allow more visits to Cuba by scholars and artists, and to let family members visit sick relatives there. Under the new rules, they still can, but only through third countries, officials said. As a result, the officials added, the number of travelers from the United States is expected to fall substantially.
They said 120,000 to 140,000 people travel from the United States to Cuba each year and that if travelers decide to forgo the added burden of traveling through a third country, "it should reduce revenues to the Cuban government significantly."
But with the Florida presidential primary just two weeks away - and with the vote-rich state looming as a crucial battleground in the general election - Clinton's Republican opponents promptly denounced the president's proposals as inadequate.
"It's a shame that President Clinton's weak actions today did not match his tough rhetoric," Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas said in a statement. "I support these measures as steps in the right direction. But after months of moving the wrong way - toward coddling Castro - President Clinton has yet to understand that the only way to deal with Castro's tyranny is with real firmness and pressure."
Cuban-American exile groups had mixed reactions. Some, like Jorge Mas Canosa, the conservative head of the Cuban American National Foundation, called the incident "a turning point in U.S.-Cuba relations," and praised Clinton's willingness to work with Congress on tighter sanctions.
But others said the administration had allowed provocative flights by the exile group, Brothers to the Rescue, to continue despite repeated warnings from the Cuban government.
Sanctions imposed Monday against Cuba by President Clinton for the downing of two unarmed U.S. planes:
Suspend all charter air travel between the United States and Cuba.
Ask Congress to pass legislation providing compensation to families of the victims. The money would come out of assets belonging to Cuba but frozen in the United States.
Seek a compromise with Republican lawmakers on a bill that would dramatically expand economic sanctions already imposed on Cuba.
Expand the reach of Radio Marti, the U.S. propaganda network, throughout Cuba.
Tighten travel restrictions on Cuban officials living in or visiting the United States. Associated Press
Box Sanctions (see text)