POISED to take over as Haiti's new prime minister, conservative Marc Bazin is holding out an olive branch to Washington and even hinting he might negotiate the return of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in exchange for an end to the international embargo.
But doubts hang over his sincerity, since this could lose him the support of military commanders who backed him for the post, or even precipitate an open split in the Army at a time of mounting tensions and division in Haitian society, analysts say.
"The Army doesn't trust Bazin, and if he does not patch things up with the international community within three to six months, they will kick him out," says a former government official. "If it seems as though he is about to do a deal for Aristide's return, they will remove him even sooner."
Unlike the military-backed government installed after President Aristide's ouster in a bloody coup last September, Mr. Bazin has promised to resume negotiations over Aristide's reinstatement.
The new prime minister also promised to stop the exodus of tens of thousands of boat people.
Officially, the US is still sticking to a position adopted by the entire Organization of American States (OAS): that it will only accept an Aristide-designated prime minister who recognizes Aristide as the president and pledges to prepare for his eventual return.
(An OAS-brokered agreement to this effect was negotiated in Washington by Aristide and parliamentary envoys in February, but the provisional government blocked its implementation with the Army's support.)
Sources close to the US Embassy, however, say the view there is that Bazin should be given a chance. Bazin is a former World Bank representative who appeared to be the US-favored candidate in 1990 elections.
Bush administration officials also were reported last weekend as saying that Aristide is not helping by calling for "popular mobilization," which has elicited a string of student protests in the last six weeks and growing jitters in an Army prone to violence.
Bazin was appointed by Provisional President Joseph Nerette under a formula devised last month with Army Chief Raoul Cedras and legislators. He was ratified by the Chamber of Deputies Wednesday, but still needed a parliamentary vote of confidence in his program and Cabinet before taking office.
A amendment by parliament requires Mr. Nerette to stand down when Bazin is installed and leave the presidency vacant. This leaves open the possibility of reinstating Aristide.
Diplomatic sources said attempts were under way to arrange a meeting next week between Aristide and Bazin. "A meeting with Aristide is desirable and we are working toward that," said Bazin aide Francois Benoit.
But one Aristide aide now in hiding ruled out any possibility of recognizing Bazin and pinned his hopes on apparent signs of divisions in the military. "We think the split will deepen and allow Aristide to return soon.... That would galvanize the people and change everything."
Meanwhile, US press reports that Washington was planning for the possible dispatch of international peacekeeping forces to Haiti once the civilian politicians have agreed on a solution are viewed by many Haitians as an attempt to pressure the military.
Canadian Ambassador Bernard Dussault said Ottawa was surprised by the reports and still believed that the OAS embargo could provide sufficient pressure.
Others agree. "The embargo is not hitting the Army directly, but they are losing the support of many of the original coup-backers because the economy is crumbling," says industry spokesman Raymond Lafontant.
"There is tension among the rank-and-file soldiers. They know they are hated," another businessman says, suggesting that some in the Army fear sanctions could trigger a social explosion.
The military apparently hopes that Bazin's Washington connections, his reputation as an efficient technocrat, and his parliamentary support will suffice to get the embargo lifted without a commitment on Aristide's return.
A key part of Washington's strategy, says one political scientist, is to encourage Army officers to accept something close to the OAS-brokered agreement.
"But this could end up splitting the Army wide open and, with all other sectors of Haitian society already divided over the question of Aristide's return, you could be creating the conditions for civil war," the former government official says.