THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release
||June 18, 1999
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN PHOTO OPPORTUNITY WITH
PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR
The Hyatt Regency Hotel
1:42 P.M. (L)
THE PRESIDENT: I would just like to make a brief comment. The
Prime Minister and I are looking forward to having a discussion about the next
steps on Kosovo. But I think it's important to point out, and I think we
should all just take a moment to reflect on the fact that this is the 8th day
of the agreement; 35,000 Serb troops have left Kosovo, 19,000 KFOR troops are
in there. They're going about their work and they're busy establishing
The refugees are beginning to come home, some of them even before
we think it's safe. But the three things that we've fought for 79 days to
achieve -- the Serb forces out, the international force with NATO at its core,
and the refugees coming home are being achieved. And I am profoundly grateful
for that, and very grateful for the strong voice of Prime Minister Blair in
our common endeavor.
Do you want to say anything before we start?
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, I would simply like to echo those
words and say to you that, as we see the full horror of what went on in
Kosovo, I think we can see how important it was that we took the action that
we did and that we were prepared to see this conflict through to a successful
conclusion. And there couldn't be any better testament to the new spirit
in the world than the fact that we were prepared to stand up for
the values of civilization and justice as we approach the 21st
Century. It's a good basis upon which to kick off the new
Let me just say one other thing. I think the other
thing that was important was the unity of the NATO Alliance
throughout this period of time, and I give my thanks to all my
European colleagues. But in particular, I would like to thank
President Clinton for his leadership and for his courage and his
support throughout this time, because without the United States
of America -- without your leadership and without the American
people's support -- we simply couldn't have brought this to a
successful conclusion. And, again, there couldn't be any better
illustration of the unity that there is that we managed bring
Q Mr. President, do you really think it is possible
to build a multinational Kosovo now, knowing the horrors of the
torture chambers and so on that we've seen, and the departure of
THE PRESIDENT: I think the important thing is to get
the truth out and make all the people safe. And then I think we
will have to do a lot of work. I think we'll have to give a lot
of care to the emotional and the psychological scars of the
Kosovars, especially the children. I think that we will have to
bring religious leaders together from both their traditions and
perhaps others around the world. I think people who have gone
through this in South Africa and other places will have to be
asked to help.
But, yes, I do. And finally, let me say I think -- I
know the Prime Minister and I feel especially strongly about this
-- we have to give them a different tomorrow to work for. We
have to not only rebuild Kosovo, we've got to rebuild
Southeastern Europe in a way that gives them the incentive to
work together and to accommodate their differences.
You see this happening in Romania and Hungary and other
places. Yes, it can be done. But it's going to be a great
challenge. The main thing is, we've reversed the ethnic
cleansing and we're getting to the truth here. As Prime Minister
Blair said, it is a worse truth than we had dared dream of and we
had hoped we would find, eerily reminiscent of what happened in
Bosnia. But at least we acted more quickly here. We have
reversed it, and I think that's the important principle.
Q Mr. President, do you accept the fact that the NRA
seems to have beaten you fair and square on the gun issue, on gun
shows? Or is there another throw of the dice here?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, for one thing, I've been working
on this for years. And I think the thing I'm worried about is, I
don't want the American people defeated here. I have a simple
question after this vote: Will this vote mean that we're going
to permit criminals who otherwise would never have gotten
handguns to get them because of the NRA, because of the
relentless pressure they put on members of Congress? Does that
mean that people will be shot and maybe some people will die, and
we could have saved their lives and lowered the crime rate
further? I think the answer to that is clear.
So sometimes it's a good thing to lose if you're
fighting for what you believe in. It's better than not making
the fight. And I have found that if you just keep working at it,
we keep making progress. Now, look at the Brady law. We've kept
400,000 improper sales from occurring. So everybody knows more
and more the criminals are turning to the gun shows and to the
flea markets. Therefore, there ought to be the same sort of
background checks. That's my position. that's the position of
the overwhelming majority of the American people.
The pressure and the effective lobbying of the NRA has
kept the Congress from embracing that position. I understand
that. They beat a lot of people in '94 who stood up for the
Brady Bill. And I hope those people sleep better at night
because of a lot of Americans are alive because they were willing
to take on the NRA. So I just intend to keep on fighting. I
think we'll keep making progress because we're right.
The United States is a great country, but it is the
only country in the world that's still living as if you don't
have to take reasonable precautions to keep guns out of the hands
of children and criminals. This has nothing to do with the 2nd
Amendment, and we've made a lot of progress -- that's why we've
got the lowest crime rate in 30 years -- we're going to make some
more. I'm just getting warmed up. I'm energized for the fight,
and I hope Carol McCarthy is and Sarah Brady and all of our
allies. we'll just keep working on it.
Q Mr. President, you spoke of rebuilding. Do you
believe Europe should carry the bulk of the cost of that
rebuilding in Southeastern Europe, as has been reported?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, but I think the international
financial institutions should do a lot of it, and I think the
United States should contribute. But keep in mind, what we want
is to see what happened -- the Marshall Plan analogy is overused,
but one big thing about the Marshall Plan was that in order to
participate in the Marshall Plan, all the European countries had
to file a joint plan to redevelop.
So if you just look more on the scale of what was done
for Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic after the Berlin Wall
fell, and you add to that the notion that these countries should
plan together for their future -- and the European Union has been
very forthright in saying that there should be more integration
within the Balkans, within Southeastern Europe -- and then a
closer relationship to the European Union, that, it seems to me,
to be -- is the direction we ought to follow.
A lot of this can and should be done through the IMF,
the World Bank, and I think the United States should contribute
to this because I think it's in our interest. But I think when
it's all said and done, I think all of this will more or less
balance out. We've paid for most of the air campaign, but we're
only providing 15 percent of the troops to KFOR. So Europe's
paying for most of that. But we'll balance this out.
I think need to do it in a fair way and we need to stay
together and we need to keep our eye on the ball, which is
achieving the objective.
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you.
Q Prime Minister, may I ask you if you agree that
Europe should supply the vast bulk of the funds for the
reconstruction work necessary in Kosovo? And on the question of
debt relief at this summit, why all the pussyfooting, why not
right now go ahead and wipe out the debts of all the poorest
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Firstly, on that issue, we are,
in fact, going to take a huge step forward at this summit in
terms of debt relief for those that are the poorest countries in
the world. We will be writing off literally billions of dollars
worth of debt, and I believe this summit will mark, probably, the
single biggest step forward in debt relief and help for the
poorest countries that we've seen in the international community
for many years.
Now, of course, there are things that we can do that go
even further than that, but I don't think we should pause from
the subject without acknowledging the huge step forward that will
be taken by agreement at this summit.
Secondly, in relation to reconstruction, I agree
entirely with what the President has said. And do understand
you've got to balance this out, as he was saying, across a whole
range of issues. America has provided enormous help and, indeed,
the bulk of the help and the costs in terms of the military
action. We acknowledge our responsibility in relation to
reconstruction. There's a different set of balances in relation
to the cost of the troops that are going in now, and you've got
to look at everything in the round.
But I think the main point is this. I mean, we will
obviously work this out and negotiate it amongst ourselves. But
the main point is this: All the way through this conflict, we
derived huge support from those frontline states that in
circumstances of real difficulty and real political pressure
stood by us and allowed us to do the job of reversing this ethnic
Now, we said all the way through that we would help
them to reconstruct the Balkans, to make the Balkans a place of
peace and security within Europe in the future, not a region
that's based on ethnic conflict. Our job is to make sure that
the promises that we made to them during the course of the
conflict we now honor post-conflict.
So, as I say, I think we can debate about the cost and
balance it out in terms of the overall military campaign, how we
deliver the proper administration in Kosovo, how we then
reconstruct the Balkans. But the key thing about this is our
determination to make sure that reconstruction actually happens.
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you all very much.
END 1:55 P.M. (L)