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Breaking News

Janet Reno Meets With Grandmothers of Young Cuban Refugee Elian Gonzalez

Aired January 22, 2000 - 2:34 p.m. ET


GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Gene Randall in Washington.

The two Cuban grandmothers of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez met with Attorney General Janet Reno today. There is a news conference under way right now by the National Council of Churches, which is sponsoring the visit of the grandmothers.

REVEREND BOB EDGAR, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES: ... the Council of Churches. He is also vicar general of the Episcopal Church of Cuba. We're delighted to be here today, and we're very much delighted with the meeting that we've held with Janet Reno. We are pleased that the grandmothers of Elian Gonzalez have had an opportunity to tell their story.

They have shared with the attorney general their pain in the loss of this grandchild. Both grandmothers articulated as clearly as anyone could the hunger and passion that they have to return their grandchild to Cuba.

I'm a grandfather, and I noticed around the table upstairs that everyone talking and sharing were grandparents. My 7-year-old grandson's birthday is today, and while I'm here working in collaboration with the Cuban Council of Churches, working to give voice to the family of Elian Gonzalez, I'm working hard also for children like my own grandchildren, so that they may be with their families.

Reverend Marechal (ph) will say a word. And let me just simply say, together the statement that we have handed out to you represents the very careful statement written in their own hand of these two courageous women.

Reverend Marechal.

REVEREND MARECHAL: Thank you, Reverend Edgar. As you mentioned, the Council of Churches of Cuba is a partner of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S., and since December the 9th last year, the two councils are working in order to make possible the return of Elian Gonzalez to his original family and home in Cuba.

And in this opportunity, this opinion (ph), the two grandmother express before the general attorney how much they are suffering because of this separation from their family on behalf of Elian Gonzalez.

This has been a very good opportunity for them to express their deep feeling as grandmother to the general attorney, asking the return of Elian to Cuba. We, as Cuban, as president of the Council of Churches of Cuba, appreciate very much the -- to our partners here in the U.S. and other people who has supported us in order to accompany (ph) the two grandmothers to the U.S.

I'm also a grandfather. My most little grandsis -- daughter is 4 days old, no more than that, even I have not meet her because I'm cooperating also to return Elian to his family, because we understand that grandchildren belong to every grandfather and -mother, any part, all over the world.

Thank you.

REPORTER: What did Janet Reno say about returning Elian to the grandmothers (UNINTELLIGIBLE) visit in a neutral territory.

EDGAR: The statement, the statement that the grandmothers have made speaks for what they said. Our plans at this point are to go back to New York. We look forward to that. And we think that the mission today was to open the dialogue and a conversation with the attorney general, and the grandmothers had a wonderful opportunity to speak to them. And that's really all that I can say at this time.

REPORTER: Can you tell us what the attorney general told you, and what promises, if any, she made?

EDGAR: The attorney general showed enormous compassion for these two courageous women, and there was a long opportunity where they simply talked back and forth with each other. It was a very personal meeting, and the attorney general has been clear throughout this controversy of her desire to have Elian return. She supports the INS decision. And that's what all of us are working for at this time.

REPORTER: Is she trying to set up a meeting with Elian and the grandmothers? Did you talk about that?

EDGAR: There has been -- there's been a lot of people asking lots of questions. We need to move to return to New York. The grandmothers' statement speaks clearly as to what their request was. That statement was given to both the attorney general and to the head of INS, and we await their actions and their decisions.

We really appreciate everybody's time.

RANDALL: Two officials from the National Council of Churches, one from the United States, the other from Cuba, talking about today's meeting between Attorney General Janet Reno and the Justice Department and the two Cuban grandmothers of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez. They say that a dialogue has now been opened.

Frank Buckley has been covering the story in New York, and he has been listening to what we have listened to.

Frank, what do you make of it?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Gene, Mr. -- Dr. Edgar mentioned the fact that the attorney general showed enormous compassion during this meeting, that it was a deeply personal meeting. But the fact is that as Dr. Edgar mentioned, Attorney General Reno already supports the position of this grandmothers, and that is to return Elian Gonzalez to his father's side in Cuba.

So at this point, it is a dialogue with someone who already supports the position to return the boy.

Really, what has to happen next, in their view, in the grandmothers' view, is for some sort of dialogue to open with those relatives in Florida who right now are the ones who are filing a lawsuit to keep Elian Gonzalez here pending an asylum hearing -- Gene.

RANDALL: And Susan Candiotti is, in fact, in Miami, where she has been covering the story. Susan, how do you suppose this is going to fly, what we've just heard from Washington, how it will rest with the family there?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I agree with what Frank had to say. All along, the Florida relatives had said that they were interested to see what might happen following this meeting with the attorney general, although other than what the spokesperson for the National Council of Churches had to say, that she showed great compassion, the family would not be surprised to hear that, because, of course, Janet Reno and Doris Meissner (ph) of INS both agree that the boy should be reunited with his father.

This family clearly feels quite the opposite and remains adamant that they plan to try to get a day in court for the youngster so that he can make a case for political asylum in this country.

These relatives say that they remain at an impasse because they have no intention of bringing that youngster to see the grandmothers. Evidently now we know that they're going back to New York. They contend that if the grandmothers want to see this youngster they can come to Miami and, as they put it, see for himself how well he's doing.

So at this juncture, we don't know whether those grandmothers are going to be going back to Cuba eventually empty-handed, or with their grandson in tow, although at this point it seems unclear if not impossible at this point that they could find a way, as Janet Reno has said in the past, that all these adults can get together and try to talk this thing out.

We have no evidence that that's about to occur. Maybe it will.

RANDALL: Susan, thanks very much. And thanks to Frank Buckley in New York.

We of course will keep you up to date on this story as developments warrant.

I'm Gene Randall in Washington. After a break, we'll return to "YOUR HEALTH."


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