Clinton's envoy is rebuffed by Spring on US anti-Cuba law


PRESIDENT Clinton's special envoy on Cuba, Mr Stuart Eizenstat, yesterday appealed to the Tanaiste not to refer the controversial US anti-Cuban legislation to the World Trade Organisation, thereby running the risk of a trade war.

Mr Spring did not give any undertaking. As President of the EU Council of Ministers Mr Spring chairs a meeting of foreign ministers in Tralee this weekend where the extra-territorial Helms-Burton legislation will be discussed.

Mr Eizenstat said there had been "no meeting of minds", but that Mr Spring "restated the strong objections the EU and its member-states have to Helms-Burton. That objection was registered and understood."

He said Mr Spring had undertaken to try to resolve the disagreement amicably and to keep up pressure on Cuba to democratise its political structures. This was in response to a political plan put forward by Mr Eizenstat to bypass the damaging effects of a trade war if the act is applied.

Signed into law this summer, but suspended by President Clinton for six months, the act allows American citizens to sue foreign companies that have profited by investments in Cuban property since the revolution in 1959.

In an interview, Mr Eizenstat insisted that the legislation is "very targeted and structured", that it will affect only about 12 companies, most of which are European, and only where they have made additional investments since March 12th this year.

President Clinton hopes to extend the suspension of the extra-territorial clauses of the act next January. Mr Eizenstat emphasised that the programme of action put to governments, nongovernmental organisations and private companies are suggestions, not commands.

They include action by governments to allow more open circulation of news and critical material emanating from their embassies in Cuba; action for the release of political prisoners and encouragement of human rights; action by NGOs to ensure that aid is channelled directly to their Cuban counterparts; and action by private companies to ensure that they can hire and pay Cuban workers directly.

Mr Eizenstat was previously US ambassador to the EU. He was appointed Under-Secretary of Commerce for International Trade in April, but has spent much of his time over the last three weeks seeking to convince the Mexican, Canadian and now European governments to pursue an alternative path on relations with Cuba.

European governments are worried that further such legislation, directed against companies investing over 40 million in Iran and Libya, would set damaging precedents. They seem determined to resist unilateral US

action and have prepared swingeing counter-measures - but they may be willing to co-ordinate an approach towards Cuba along the lines of this US initiative.