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Clinton says U.S. won't halt Haiti aid

The United States has no plans to halt aid to earthquake-ravaged Haiti in spite of a crisis over who will be the nation's next leader but does insist that the president's chosen successor be dropped from the race, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday.

Clinton arrived Sunday in the impoverished Caribbean nation for a brief visit. She conferred with President Rene Preval after meeting each of the three candidates jockeying to replace him.

Only two candidates can go on to the delayed second round, now scheduled for March 20. The United States is backing an Organization of American States recommendation that the candidate from Preval's party, government construction official Jude Celestin, should be left out.

The top U.S. official at the United Nations, Susan Rice, said recently that "sustained support" from the United States required that the OAS recommendations be implemented. Many Haitian officials, including leaders of Preval's Unity party and rival candidate Michel Martelly, interpreted that to mean the U.S. was threatening an embargo and cutting off aid.

Clinton flatly rebuffed that suggestion: "We're not talking about any of that," she said Sunday.

"We have a deep commitment to the Haitian people," she told reporters. "That goes to humanitarian aid, that goes to governance and democracy programs, that will be going to a cholera treatment center."

Asked if there were any set of circumstances that would prompt Washington to cut off aid, Clinton said, "At this point, no."

Still, she insisted that the United States would press the recommendations by international monitors after a disorganized, fraud-ridden first-round presidential vote in November. The monitors determined that Preval's preferred successor, Jude Celestin, finished last and should drop out. Celestin has yet to do so.

"We're focused on helping the Haitian people," Clinton said ahead of the official meetings.

Haiti is in a deepening and potentially destabilizing political crisis. The announcement of preliminary results from the disputed first round led to rioting in December. Final results are expected to be announced Wednesday.

Just five days later, on Feb. 7, comes the constitutional end of Preval's five-year term.

A law passed by an expiring Senate last May would allow him to remain in power for an extra three months, but it is not clear if his government would continue to be recognized by donor countries. But Preval has said he does not want to hand power to an interim government.

"That's one of the problems we have to talk about," Clinton said.

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