WASHINGTON, Feb 18 (AP) — Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has

rebuffed Bush administration suggestions that he convene early presidential

elections as a way to defuse the country’s accelerating political crisis, a

senior U.S. official said Wednesday.

   While rejecting any Haitian opposition efforts to remove Aristide by

force, administration officials are privately discussing ideas for a

possible constitutional succession before Aristide’s term expires in

February 2006.

   U.S. officials worry that the current crisis would only worsen if

Aristide is forced to flee. One option being discussed internally is a

transfer of power, with Aristide’s consent, to a temporary governing board

made up of Haitians who would run the country until a new president was


   It is not clear how much support that proposal has at top levels of the


   Haitian government spokesman Mario Dupuy said Port-au-Prince, the

capital, that his government could not accept any proposal involving a

change in the election date or an early handoff of power.

   “I can neither confirm nor deny that any such offer was made, formally

or informally,” he said. “But both proposals are unacceptable. They are

tantamount to admitting the legitimacy of a coup d’etat against the


   Aristide was elected to a five-year term in December 2000. He has said

repeatedly that he intends to serve out his full term. The Haitian

constitution says the head of the Supreme Court is next in line in the

event the presidency is vacated.

   U.S. interagency meetings on what to do about the situation in Haiti

include representatives from the Homeland Security Department and the Coast

Guard, the senior U.S. official said, asking not to be identified. This is

an indication that officials are concerned about a possible new Haitian

refugee crisis.

   A sudden surge in boat-building by individual Haitians would be a sure

sign of preparations for an escape from the impoverished country, but U.S.

officials say they detect no such activity on a meaningful scale. They

caution that Aristide’s forced removal could provoke as mass exodus as

rival groups compete to fill the power vacuum.

   Tens of thousands of Haitians fled during the era of the military junta

that deposed Aristide. The military ran the country for three years before

the U.S. military reinstated Aristide in 1994.

   Secretary of State Colin Powell says the administration has “no

enthusiasm” for a new military intervention. But Marine Corps Commandant

Michael Hagee said Wednesday the U.S. military is upgrading contingency

plans, which he described as a normal process in unstable situations.

   Aristide enjoyed wide political support both here and in Haiti when he

was reinstated in October 1994. Among his strongest backers was the

Congressional Black Caucus. There is little overt backing by the group for

Aristide now but there have been expressions of concern that the

administration may be seeking Aristide’s ouster by unconstitutional means.

   Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who often speaks out on human rights issues

on behalf of the black caucus, said in a Feb. 11 letter to Powell that

there is “a violent coup d’etat in the making, and it appears that the

United States is aiding and abetting the attempt to violently topple the

Aristide Government.”

   The administration has repeatedly called for a political solution to the

crisis. The mediation effort is being led by Caribbean nations and the

Organization of American States.

   The decline of support for Aristide among black U.S. lawmakers has been

coupled with growing disaffection for Aristide among Haiti’s Caribbean


   Last Friday, Powell made clear his impatience with Aristide and

suggested that the Haitian leader is backed by disreputable elements.

   “We need him to start taking action, to reach out to the opposition, to

make sure that thugs are not allowed to break up peaceful demonstrations,”

he said.

   TransAfrica, a Washington-based group that monitors U.S. policy toward

Africa and the Caribbean, said in a statement Tuesday the administration

should halt its “contemptuous attitude toward President Aristide” and focus

on a negotiated settlement.