- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Elian Gonzalez will meet today with his father in Washington, four months after the young boy was plucked from the sea by fishermen on Thanksgiving Day. The meeting comes while the Justice Department moves forward on a court order to reunite the 6-year-old with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.
The meeting was announced by Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, who brokered the session with Elian's Miami relatives, and the Cuban-American National Foundation.
"There is an agreement between the family and the Justice Department and Gregory Craig, the attorney for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, that a meeting will take place tomorrow at a neutral location," said Jorge Mas Santos, president of the Cuban-American National Foundation.
Mr. Mas said the meeting would take place at a neutral location in the Washington area, and would involve only family members, Deputy Attorney General Eric G. Holder Jr. and Mr. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat.
"After four and a half months, the private meeting that this family has so yearned for with Juan Miguel Gonzalez tomorrow will be a reality," Mr. Mas said, adding that the Miami relatives and the Justice Department had both agreed to the details.
As the 4-month-old custody battle over the boy intensified with the arrival of his father in Washington and Miss Reno's promise that he would be reunited with his son this week, the attorney general had planned to head to Miami to meet with the boy's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, and others to discuss the transfer.
But her trip has since been put on hold.
The Justice Department is not expected to back down from a court ruling that Elian has to be returned to the father. Nor will meetings Miss Reno might have in Washington or Miami change the department's timetable for Elian's transfer to his father.
"We are not willing to discuss any delays," said Justice Department spokeswoman Carole Florman, adding that department officials still hope for "an orderly transition."
The department had planned on sending a letter to the relatives yesterday, saying when and where the transfer of the young boy would take place. The letter was not sent, but a draft of the document originally suggested the transfer point be the Opa-Locka airport near Miami at 10 a.m. on Thursday. It was not clear how today's visit would impact on the Thursday deadline.
Miss Reno's planned Miami trip was announced yesterday after a meeting with two Miami-area mayors at the Justice Department. Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and Miami Mayor Joe Carollo said Miss Reno was willing to meet with Lazaro Gonzalez, other relatives and community leaders.
"We all agreed that helping to bring the family together to work out this orderly transition would be desirable, but I also stressed the transfer of Elian to the care of his father must move forward without delay," Miss Reno said after her meeting with two mayors.
The Miami relatives had originally offered to meet with the boy's father in Florida and said they would bring Elian to the session. In a letter given to reporters outside Lazaro Gonzalez's home, the family said it would meet the father at any "neutral place in South Florida."
In that letter, Lazaro Gonzalez issued a plea for the federal government to hold off while the family tries to resolve the issue.
"We are writing to ask that no further ultimatums should be issued before the family can meet," he wrote, adding that a meeting of the Miami family with Elian's father is "essential and long overdue."
"While we cannot guarantee the ultimate outcome of the discussions among family members, they might help matters a great deal and could not possibly make things any worse," he wrote.
The great-uncle said at the time that the family meeting should not be at the Bethesda, Md., home of the Cuban diplomat where the father is staying. In the letter, he said he did not believe a Washington meeting was a possibility "under the glaring eyes of Cuban government officials."
How the Miami relatives will react to the pending federal order to surrender the boy remains in question. Attorneys have said the family will obey the law, but have conducted a full-court legal press to delay action.
"We are not going to take the moral responsibility of sending this boy back to Cuba away from the INS and the Justice Department," said Spencer Eig, a lawyer helping to represent Lazaro Gonzalez of the department and its agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Separately, family attorney Roger A. Bernstein issued a direct appeal to President Clinton yesterday as the Miami relatives filed an appeal to the Justice Department's decision to deny Elian Gonzalez's right to apply for political asylum.
Mr. Bernstein asked Mr. Clinton to issue an executive order that would bar Juan Miguel Gonzalez from taking his son out of the country while legal appeals proceed.
"The INS' unwillingness to provide Lazaro Gonzalez with this assurance was a major obstacle in achieving a mutually agreeable resolution to the issue of Elian's transfer of custody," the attorney wrote.
A day after a massive, peaceful prayer vigil in the heart of Miami's Little Havana section, a small but animated crowd of protesters was back at the barricades yesterday near the Miami relatives' small white bungalow.
Demonstrators handed out fliers listing what they said were articles of Cuban laws dealing with children, including the dictate that "society and the state will work for the efficient protection of youth against all influences contrary to their communist formation."
Elian Gonzalez was seen briefly, wearing sunglasses and playing on the swing set in the house's back yard. The great-uncle took a brief stroll in the powerful Miami afternoon sun. Asked by supporters if he planned to travel to Washington, he shrugged and said, "We'll see."
In Bethesda, where the father is staying, a lone protester showed up carrying a placard that read: "Send Elian home." Overhead, an airplane circled with a banner that read, "America sends 6-year-old back to communists."
On Capitol Hill, six members of Congress invited Juan Miguel Gonzalez to a "private meeting" today "to express your true feelings during your visit without coercion and without intimidation." The invitation came from House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Dick Armey, Majority Whip Tom Delay, House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts Jr., and Republican Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Eleana Ros-Lehtinen.
"We want to be sure that you are aware of all the options available to you as you make your decision," the invitation said.
Also yesterday, the two psychiatrists and one psychologist assigned by the Justice Department to meet with Lazaro Gonzalez reported that their meeting was not productive. INS officials described the meeting, which took place at a Miami hospital, as "disappointing," adding that Lazaro Gonzalez "refused to discuss a neutral location and didn't understand why Juan Miguel [Gonzalez] wouldn't come to Little Havana to his house."
Gerald Mizejewski in Washington contributed to this report. David R. Sands reported from Miami.

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