Reno Looks Determined to Hand Over Elian

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Having satisfied herself that Juan Miguel Gonzalez is speaking his true heart, Janet Reno is steeling herself to go the hard yard. After meeting with Elian Gonzalez's father Friday, Reno announced that the boy's Miami relatives have been instructed to surrender him this week so that custody can be restored to his father. "According to Justice insiders, Reno wanted to meet Gonzalez to make her own judgment about the motivations behind his request to reclaim his son," says TIME Washington correspondent Elaine Shannon.

Now comes the harder part — extracting the boy from a home containing reluctant relatives and surrounded by protestors. The problem facing Reno is that although the Miami relatives who currently have Elian have indicated that they would comply with the law, they have shown no indication that they intend to cooperate in easing the boy's transition back into his father's care. On "Meet the Press" Sunday, Greg Craig, Juan Miguel Gonzalez's lawyer, questioned whether the relatives would allow a peaceful transfer. But Gonzalez senior is trying to smooth the way: To satisfy concerns about his suitability as a parent, he is meeting Sunday with mental health experts to discuss taking custody of Elian, and has indicated that he would stay in the U.S. during an appeal of the case.

Although the Clinton administration has studiously avoided confrontations with the Miami family and their supporters during this case, the arrival of Gonzalez in Washington Thursday has changed the situation. Now Reno is confronted with a legally straightforward situation in which the father of a six-year-old boy has come to the U.S. and demanded the custody to which the law has recognized he is entitled. Reno insisted that she plans to implement the law, and invited the Miami relatives to meet with a panel of psychologists to discuss how — rather than whether — the transfer could be undertaken in a way that minimizes Elian's trauma.

But if the Miami relatives choose not to cooperate, the Attorney General appears to be ready for a fight. "Reno has made clear that she intends to take every possible step to ensure that Elian is reunited with his father in a fair, prompt and orderly manner," says Shannon. "But with everything that's been said so far, that may still mean that some measure of force will have to be used, because somebody will have to go and take the child out of the Miami house. Her main concern will be to minimize the trauma that will involve for Elian." But the government's decision, based on the law, appears no longer to be up for discussion.