- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Vice President Al Gore, zigzagging like the Nasdaq, now says Elian Gonzalez's "entire family" should meet to decide the boy's fate.

"With tensions as high as they are and with both sides trying to figure out a way to come to a resolution, I think that we need to encourage the talks between the family members themselves," Mr. Gore said Monday night at a town hall meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

"Let the entire family, including the Florida relatives, talk with one another without people from the U.S. government or the Cuban government or lawyers on either side," he said.

Six days earlier, Mr. Gore told NBC's "Today" show that Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the boy's father, should be allowed to take his son back to Cuba if he made the request "on free soil" in the United States.

On March 30, Mr. Gore broke with the Clinton administration, saying he supports a bill that would give permanent residency status in the United States to Elian, his father, his stepmother, his half-brother, his grandmothers and grandfathers.

Mr. Gore's latest position dovetails with that of the boy's relatives in Miami, as well as those of Miami Mayor Joe Carollo and Alex Penelas, mayor of Miami-Dade County.

"I think we all agree that this is an issue really that should be decided between them between family members," Mr. Penelas said yesterday after he and Mr. Carollo met with Attorney General Janet Reno.

"They should sit down at a table, they should see eye to eye, face to face and discuss what's in the best interests of Elian Gonzalez."

Aides to Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumptive Republican nominee, did not return calls for comment on the vice president's latest position

Mr. Bush previously questioned Mr. Gore's sincerity in the Elian case, calling him a convert to permanent residency status.

Most Americans believe Elian should be reunited with his father, according to a CNN/USA Today/ Gallup poll conducted Friday through Sunday. Sixty percent of respondents said Elian should return to Cuba with his father, while 31 percent said the boy should remain in the United States.

Nationally, the issue may prove fleeting, especially if the case is resolved quickly. For example, the case does not appear to be a significant issue in Ohio, a pivotal battleground state where both Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush campaigned this week.

"Most people in Ohio are just tired of hearing about it," said Bob Bennett, the chairman of Ohio's Republican Party.

But the case may reverberate politically in Florida, the nation's fourth-largest state, with 25 electoral votes. Mr. Gore is trying to decide whether to contest Florida, which usually votes Republican in presidential elections.

Mr. Clinton won Florida in a three-way race in 1996, gaining 40 percent of the Cuban-American vote. But Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will commit his organization to his brother's cause.

Mr. Bush leads Mr. Gore in Florida 47 percent to 43 percent in a poll the Florida Sun-Sentinel published yesterday. But the paper reported that a Democratic ticket of Mr. Gore and Florida Sen. Bob Graham would beat a ticket of Mr. Bush and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge by 6 points, 48 percent to 42 percent.

President Clinton this week tried to give the vice president political cover for the switch on permanent residency status.

"I don't believe it was a purely political position," Mr. Clinton told CBS during an interview at the White House.

"I know the conventional wisdom is that the vice president's position was purely political, but he talked to me … weeks and weeks ago and said, 'You know, I'm worried about this process.' "

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