NEW YORK -- One day after making a national appeal for the return of their 6-year-old grandson, the grandmothers of Elian Gonzalez headed to Washington Saturday to meet with Attorney General Janet Reno.
The two women, who flew in from Cuba on Friday, left a Manhattan apartment house without speaking to reporters. Flanked by police, they climbed into a car for the trip to Kennedy International Airport and a flight south.
They were expected to meet with Reno and Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner. There, they hoped to take another step toward reclaiming the boy, who remains with relatives in Miami.
U.S. officials said that the grandmothers requested the meeting and that the Clinton administration wants to hear what they have to say. Reno and the INS have said Elian belongs with his father in Cuba.
On Friday, the pair spoke pointedly, and at times tearfully, in asking the nation to let them take their grandson back to Cuba.
''I came here to tell you all and to ask you to finish this tragedy that has been so hard for us as a family and to ask you that our grandson can return as soon as possible,'' Mariela Quintana, Elian's paternal grandmother, said in Spanish on Friday after arriving at Kennedy International Airport.
''Nobody has a right to make him an American citizen,'' Mrs. Quintana, the paternal grandmother, said of Elian. ''He was born in Cuba. He lived in Cuba. He is a Cuban.''
The boy's maternal grandmother, Raquel Rodriguez, said through an interpreter she felt a need to take Elian back to Cuba.
''If you want to help us ... I want that my daughter (Elian's dead mother) will be in peace, and she will not be in peace until Elian is home,'' she said.
Mrs. Quintana also said that Elian, in telephone conversations with her and with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, had expressed a desire to return to Cuba.
The emotional appeal failed to impress Elian's relatives in Miami. Following the grandmothers' televised news conference, the boy's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, emerged from his house with Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation.
''Elian saw the images of his grandmothers,'' Mas said. ''He crossed in front of the television set and continued playing in his room without spending more than 10 seconds looking at the screen.''
Both reiterated their request that the grandmothers visit Elian in Miami.
''Why don't they come to Miami to hug him and be together with him?'' Mas said. ''Instead they're in New York, repeating the propaganda of the Castro regime. We sincerely hope that they will stop this charade, that they will come here and be with their grandson.''
The grandmothers are being accompanied by a three-member U.S. church delegation. Their grandson has been the subject of both a personal battle for custody between family members and a political tug of war between the Castro regime and expatriate Cubans.
In the airport at Havana, the two women kissed and embraced Elian's father before boarding the plane without him. They left for New York after meeting over 24 hours with representatives of the National Council of Churches, which favors the boy's return to Cuba.
It was not immediately clear how long the grandmothers would stay in the United States, although trip organizers said it would only be a few days and the grandmothers' visas were good for two months.
The boy was with his mother as she attempted to flee Cuba in a 17-foot power boat two months ago. The mother and 10 other Cubans died when the boat capsized. The boy was found floating on an inner tube 2 miles off Fort Lauderdale.
The boy's relatives in Miami argue he would have a better life in the United States and have raised legal action to keep him. The boy's father wants him returned to Cuba.
The INS has ordered Elian returned. But attorneys for the family in Florida accused the INS of violating Elian's due process rights and asked a judge to prevent his return before he has an asylum hearing.
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