- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2000

The White House yesterday reacted coolly to plans by Republican and Democratic lawmakers to grant U.S. citizenship to a 6-year-old Cuban boy who has become the object of an international tug-of-war.

"The best place for this to be decided will be in a court of law rather than in the halls of Congress," White House Chief of Staff John Podesta said on ABC's "This Week."

Ricardo Alarcon, Cuban National Assembly president, denounced the idea in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I think that citizenship is something that should not be used for that kind of maneuvering. You cannot impose citizenship upon anybody, and … this 6-year-old boy has not requested anything, and he cannot, legally speaking," Mr. Alarcon said.

Meanwhile, Cuba's foreign minister left for Europe yesterday to seek support for the return of Elian Gonzalez.

"It is inconceivable and unacceptable that this small child remains kidnapped," Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told Cuba's Prensa Latina news service before leaving. He will visit Italy, San Marino, France, Denmark and Russia, and also meet with Vatican and Spanish officials before returning to Cuba on Jan. 28.

There were no mass demonstrations in Havana yesterday, but over the weekend Fidel Castro's government appeared to be gearing up for more and larger protests in the days to come.

Elian's mother and stepfather drowned in the Atlantic Ocean while trying to flee Cuba. The child was found floating on an inner tube off the coast of Florida on Thanksgiving Day.

Since then, Elian has been living with a great-uncle in Miami who wants to keep him there. But Elian's father in Cuba, who was divorced from his mother, wants him back in Cuba.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service ruled that Elian should return to Cuba. But a judge in a state court in Miami subsequently granted the great-uncle temporary custody of the boy. Attorney General Janet Reno said last week that court's decision would have "no force nor effect" on the INS ruling.

Elian's relatives in Miami are expected to challenge the INS order in federal court as early as this week.

Sen. Connie Mack, Florida Republican, has drafted a bill that would grant Elian U.S. citizenship. Republican leaders in both the House and Senate back the measure, and Rep. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, will introduce a House version.

Elian's case was a major topic on television talk shows yesterday.

On NBC, Mr. Alarcon was asked how relations between the United States and Cuba would be affected if Elian were made a U.S. citizen. "That would be a terrible message for the future of our relations, but I don't think that that could happen. I don't think that it would have any constitutional validity."

He reiterated he believes Congress cannot impose citizenship "without the consent of the so-called citizen and without the ability of that small boy to even request that."

Earlier, the Cuban official told "Fox News Sunday": "That you first permitted some people to steal a boy, now is the Congress of your country going to steal his nationality? That's going too far."

Those who want Elian to remain in this country say he should be given that right, since his mother gave her life in a bid to remove him from communist Cuba.

But Mr. Alarcon argued that no one "can interpret what were the last wishes of that woman or what would be her wishes now."

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and presidential hopeful, was incredulous at that remark. "Does he think she was going on a pleasure cruise" when she boarded that boat out of Cuba? he asked.

"If during the Cold War a woman trying to go over the Berlin Wall had been killed, and dropped her child to freedom, no one would have contemplated sending her child back to oppression," Mr. McCain told NBC. He called Cuba "one of the last places of oppression and repression."

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican front-runner for president, said it should be up to Elian's father to decide the future of his son. "My position is … that the man ought to be allowed to come to America to make that decision as to where the son ought to live," he told CNN's "Late Edition."

"There's no telling what pressures he's under, no telling what he's being told, and if he's being given a chance to come, and hopefully come and stay in the United States if he wanted to stay with his son, I think he ought to be given that option to do so," Mr. Bush said.

On NBC, Mr. Alarcon said Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, "is a free person. He can travel there [to Florida] or anywhere else." But Mr. Alarcon said there is a "specific threat" Mr. Gonzalez would be subpoenaed by Congress and forced to stay.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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