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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton Defends Impact of Steps Against Cuba

WASHINGTON -- With U.S. President Bill Clinton's critics saying the United States isn't getting tough enough with Cuba, the Clinton administration Tuesday defended its response to the downing of two unarmed U.S. civilian planes off the Cuban coast.


"We took additional measures yesterday which are effective and will increase the pressure on Castro's government," said Undersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff in a nationally televised interview with CBS. "It's exactly what's warranted at this time."


President Clinton announced a series of actions Monday designed to retaliate against Fidel Castro's government for the incident Saturday over the Florida Straits that left four occupants of the planes missing and presumed dead. Another plane from the Cuban-American exile group Brothers to the Rescue escaped Cuban MiGs and returned safely to the United States.


Congressional Republicans said Clinton's actions are welcomed but don't go far enough.


"Castro won't exactly be shaking in his boots unless we get tougher sanctions," said Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American who represents a heavily Cuban district in Miami.


Presidential candidate and Republican Senator Bob Dole declared that Clinton was "coddling Castro."


House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Congress would soon send the president legislation dramatically expanding sanctions on Cuba. He criticized the administration for not pushing more vigorously for a condemnation of Cuba from the United Nations.


"The administration needs to indicate clearly that our goal, frankly, is a free, democratic Cuba and our goal is not to find ways to accommodate Fidel," Gingrich told reporters.


Clinton halted all charter flights between the United States and Cuba and added new restrictions to Cuban diplomats' U.S. travel. He pledged support for legislation toughening the embargo against Cuba and said he would ask Congress to compensate the victims' families out of $100 million in frozen Cuban assets.


Clinton called the attack "an appalling reminder of the nature of the Cuban regime: repressive, violent, scornful of international law," and said he was "not ruling out any further steps in the future should they be required."


Several members of Congress and Cuban American activists demanded more punitive measures, starting with final action of a tough bill -- bottled up in a House-Senate conference committee -- that would dramatically expand sanctions on Havana.


In related developments:


?A Cuban air force pilot who defected to the United States said Monday he returned to Cuba three days ago and gave the Castro government information about the Brothers group.


?Under U.S. pressure, the UN Security Council agreed early Tuesday to a "president's statement" -- which carries less weight than a legally binding resolution -- saying the council "strongly deplores" the Cuban action. The United States had wanted the statement to "condemn" the action.


Madeleine Albright, the U.S. delegate to the United Nations, said in a nationally televised interview Tuesday with NBC that the UN action "is really a big deal" because it "declared what the Cubans have done is a crime."


?The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it sought last August to suspend the pilot's license of Jose Basulto, a co-founder of the Brothers group, for flying into Cuban airspace without permission. Basulto flew the plane that was not shot down in the incident.


The FAA also noted that it had suspended the license of another Brothers pilot, Carlos Ernesto Gartner, for 90 days for clipping the mast of a ship off Cuba's coast in 1994.