WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Janet Reno on Saturday defended the decision to take Elian Gonzalez by force, saying the government believed agents might face armed resistance in ending the standoff.
Reno said the government received information that there might be guns ''perhaps in the crowd, perhaps in the house'' and agents had to be prepared.
She said the government will ''take every step necessary'' to ensure that the 6-year-old Cuban boy does not leave the United States with his father until the court battle over his custody is resolved.
The Miami relatives left the government no choice but to move in forcefully and take the boy, she said.
''I informed the parties that time had run out,'' she said after an all-night session of negotiations that ended with the boy's seizure before dawn.
Associated Press photos taken during the seizure showed one of the fishermen who rescued Elian at sea five months ago backed into a closet, clutching the boy, as an agent pointing his weapon was about to take him.
Asked about the photo, Reno said the gun ''was pointed to the side'' and the agent's ''finger was not on the trigger.''
Reno did not say whether any weapons had been found in the house.
Authorities outside fired pepper spray to control the relatives' angry and distraught supporters.
''We have been told on occasion that people would have weapons to prevent it from happening,'' Reno said.
Reno said at a news conference that after she set the raid in motion, the intermediary for Elian's Miami relatives called with a counteroffer.
''I did until the final moments try to reach a voluntary solution,'' she said.
Reno said the boy needs to ''have quiet time and to be with his father.'' As she spoke, Elian was being flown to a Washington-area airport for a reunion with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.
Father and son talked by telephone during Elian's flight to Washington.
While an appeals court deals with the custody dispute, Reno said, ''We will take every step necessary to ensure that Elian does not leave the country.''
The attorney general expressed frustration in the government's dealings with the Miami relatives during the five-month-long standoff.
''Every time we thought we had achieved what we wanted, it wasn't enough,'' she said. ''It was just one step after another in which they moved the goalpost.''
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