THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release
|April 24, 1999
BRIEFING TO THE POOL
BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
International Trade Center
12:55 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. The discussion this morningfocused on the overall new NATO agenda -- the new strategic concept, theopendoor, the continued enlargement process, the European security and defenseidentity and the defense capabilities initiative, weapons of massdestruction --so the various initiatives you've heard about that are being approved hereatthe summit.
I would say that there was really very broad agreement on theimportanceof the new strategic concept. Several of the ministers stressed how it was veryforward-looking, future oriented, that it recognizes that NATO needs todealwith new risks, new threats; that we need to prepare the Alliance to dealwithchallenges, not only on its territory, but beyond. There were manycommentsthat supported the U.S. view that it's important, whenever possible, tohave astrong international mandate, but that in exceptional cases or in extremesituations, as we've confronted in Kosovo, consensus of the Alliance is abasisto act.
There was a lot of emphasis on the importance of the capabilitiestoback up the new missions that the Alliance is taking on. PresidentClinton, inparticular, who closed the discussion -- they went around the table inalphabetical order -- President Clinton stressed that it's particularlyimportant not only that the Alliance be seen as relevant, which is part ofthemessage that's coming out of the different summit decisions, but that it beeffective in carrying out these new tasks.
And he put particular stress on the defense capabilitiesinitiative,which is one of the more important pieces of this, from the U.S. point ofview,that allies -- recognizing budget limitations -- need to spend their moneywisely so that we are equipped to deal with these new threats, particularly toproject power and sustain operations beyond our frontiers. And he alsostressedthat this is important if the European defense identity is going to work -- ifthey don't have the capabilities to back it up, it isn't going to amount to thatmuch.
The President, secondly, emphasized the establishment of a weaponsofmass destruction center at NATO. He noted that this is going to be aproblemconfronting NATO leaders for many decades to come and that the Allianceneeds tobe better organized to deal with weapons of mass destruction. And I don'tknowif you've been briefed on what this will entail -- therewill be a new organizational structure at NATO, establishing acenter to coordinate all Alliance work on dealing with WMDthreats to coordinate intelligence assessments, to give moreimpetus to defense preparations, to deal with operations wherethere's a threat from an adversary with chemical, biologicalweapons and all that; and generally to put more focus on thisissue for the future.
Then, third, the President stressed that a strategicconcept, itself, has to be followed up on seriously. And hecalled attention to a recent speech by the U.N. SecretaryGeneral, who stressed that when one was dealing with flagrantabuses of human rights that no despot like Milosevic should beable to seek refuge in the UN charter and territorialsovereignty. I would refer you to Kofi Annan, to exactly what hesaid -- not quote my paraphrase. But the President felt thatthis was an important statement and it underpinned what we'redoing in Kosovo, that the consensus of 19 democracies determinedto confront this sort of flagrant abuse of human rights is animportant element for the future.
So just looking through here -- a lot of support forcontinued enlargement, the need to keep the door open, keep upthe momentum. Different countries mentioned their favoritecandidates, who will get recognition in our communique in asubtly nuanced way you will see when it's released. And a lot ofthe allies stressed that even as we build a stronger Europeanrole within the Alliance, it's important to maintain thetrans-Atlantic link. I think the Portuguese Prime Minister, whohas a flair for the metaphor, said that as we try to build astronger European pillar, the pillar is aimed at furtherunderpinning the trans-Atlantic bridge -- we're not building thepillar to replace the bridge, but it's to support the bridge.
I think that covers the main themes. If you want to fire afew questions, I came here to fill in some gaps.
Q On the strategic concept, I understand that Turkey hassome objections to that. Can you tell us what they are and whatwe're doing to address them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's why I'm a littlelate. There's one remaining issue, both in the communique andthe strategic concept that relates to forward agenda on theEuropean security and defense identity, where allies want to,first of all, consolidate what we've achieved, building thiswithin NATO, which was the Berlin decisions of 1996 and the workthat's followed -- but then there's the British-Frenchinitiative, San Merlo -- and the Alliance is looking to lay outits thinking on how this process should evolve vis-a-vis NATO.
And we're working with the Turks right now, even as wespeak, to kind of resolve the final references in this to makeclear that all the allies, all the European allies need to beinvolved in this process if they want to contribute to thedevelopment of European defense, even those who are not membersof the European Union, which Turkey, of course, is one of eightallies who aren't in the EU.
Q So the sticking point is what, exactly? That theydon't want to --
Q I didn't get your explanation, I'm sorry. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry, I'm trying to be alittle evasive here. (Laughter.)
Q That they don't want to contribute as much as they needto?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. The Turks want tobe involved and they want to ensure that -- the way the NATOdecision, or the NATO communique is framed, in terms of wherethis process is going to go, that Turkey is assured of a roll,even though it's not in the EU. And we support that. We want tobe involved, too, and we're not in the EU.
Q And what process, the enlargement process?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, the Europeansecurity and defense process. This is the San Merlo, theFranco-British initiative to boost the security and defensedimension of the European Union over the next few years.
Q And, sorry, what are we doing to address theirconcerns?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Final negotiations on thewording of the communique on this particular point.
Q And you're confident that that will --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Confident we'll have aresolution. I can't tell you what it's going to be at thispoint.
Q I have a technical question, actually, coming out ofyesterday. If eventually we put Kosovo under an internationalprotectorate, or whatever the term was that was used there, doesthat mean it would still be technically part of Yugoslavia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, if you look at thestatement on Kosovo, it talks about a transitional arrangementproviding substantial autonomy within the FRY. I mean, that's aframework, the specifics will only be worked out at the stagethat we are fleshing this out in detail.
I think, in practice, I think it's the view of everybody inthe Alliance that after what's happened it's hard to envisage anySerb military and police forces remaining in Kosovo for some timeif there's going to be a safe environment for the return ofrefugees and the establishment of the autonomous institutions ofself-government for the Kosovar population. That doesn't meanthat at least nominally speaking the sovereignty of the FederalRepublic of Yugoslavia will still be affirmed.
All the allies -- and this was clear at yesterday'sdiscussions -- continue to see major down sides in Kosovoindependence, in terms of its implications for stability in thewider region, looking at the fragility of Macedonia, inparticular; and, also, just as a bad precedent for the alterationof international borders by force.
Q Can you tell us what specific -- if there was anyspecific discussion of the Kosovo situation during today'ssession? And, also, I noticed some people working around theedges still on the oil interdiction issue.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Glad you asked about that.I would say there wasn't any specific discussion of the Kosovoissues in their detail, as were addressed yesterday, including inthe statement. But many allies -- probably just about every ally-- mentioned Kosovo as kind of a metaphor for what the new NATOis supposed to be all about, that in a sense, the new NATO thatwe're launching here with all the different summit decisions --from the strategic concept to the defense capabilities initiative-- is already kind of being put to the test in Kosovo.
So many people felt that it made all the more important whatwe're deciding today on strategic concept capabilities, even onsensitive issues like the question of the mandate that -- so thatwe can deal with future situations -- hopefully none quite asserious as Kosovo will ever occur -- we have the tools and thestructures and the capabilities to deal with them.
On the maritime issue, that wasn't addressed at all in thismorning's meeting. But as you know, there was a meeting of thedefense ministers yesterday afternoon, at which there was afollow up to the meeting of the leaders in the morning. And as Iunderstand it -- I wasn't present, I was at the foreign ministersmeeting at the same time -- but there was considerable progressin coming to a formal decision to direct our military authoritiesto complete the preparations to put in place measures to blockthe delivery of oil and other war materiel to Yugoslavia.
So we translated what was a general reference in thedeclaration that you've seen into a decision. Now, there willstill be some further work to completing the planning and allthat, but the defense ministers were unanimous on the need toactually go ahead and start implementing.
Q What's the next step on that? Will there be anothermeeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not here. I think the nextstep is sort of finalize all this back in Brussels in the dailymeetings with --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to give youany code words. The words are to take measures to either blockor impede -- I don't even know the word in the final decisionsheet -- the delivery of oil.
Q Berger said yesterday, by any means. So that couldinclude a blockade.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's encompassed. We hadbeen pushing for what was called a visit and search regime, whereyou could stop and search ships and divert them if they had whatwe consider to be illegitimate cargo. You can call that ablockade if you want.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But it has legalimplications, that word, so Mr. Berger referred to ityesterday --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In different terms.
Q Does that take an extra deployment of forces?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it would requireputting sufficient naval assets into the Adriatic. I don't knowthe force requirements, but it would take a substantial number ofships to do an effective job.
Q So that's what the decision was, that we would be doingthat -- stopping, inspecting, diverting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's among the options.And there's also strong sentiment for continuing in the aircampaign, to target the supply routes out of Montenegro and intoSerbia -- not wanting to damage Montenegro, which remains stillan island of relative democracy and we're trying not to furtherweaken Djukanovic, who's being very much besieged by Milosevicand his forces. But in terms of shipment out of Montenegro intoSerbia, we want to stop that and the NATO air campaign can andhas already targeted roads and other supply lines.
Q You still concede, though, that the Alliance has notyet come to a decision on how to interdict and block? And alsoyou haven't reached a decision as to what the legal basis forsuch a thing would be.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's been a decision bythe defense ministers that we will take military action,including with maritime forces, to block. But exactly how thiswill be done is now in the hands of the military to come backwith the final concept of operations or plan.
But the political decision has been taken. Now we have tofigure out what's the most practical way to do it within theresources that we have and to make sure that everybody iscomfortable, that the menu of measures -- and it will be morethan one means, as I mentioned, there will still be the airoptions, as well as the maritime -- that everybody is satisfiedwith the legal dimension of this.
Q But there is yet no legal basis agreed upon?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're satisfied. Themajority of the allies believe --
Q Or what is the legal basis, then, if you could describeit for us.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we've argued thatit's the customary law of armed conflict. We are in a state of-- we don't use the "w" word -- but we believe that we are in astate of armed conflict with the FRY and consistent with oureffort to degrade their military capability, including attackingthe oil petroleum capacities that it's thereby also legitimate todeprive them of the ability to replenish those sorts ofmaterials, which are key to the war effort.
So not all allies have yet fully come on board thatapproach, but we think that they will.
Q One quick question. The President of Albania saidtoday that he would allow troops, ground troops to launch anoffensive from his country. Is that welcome?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's an interestingdevelopment. But since the leaders were quite unanimous thatwe're prosecuting an air campaign, that it's still the viablestrategy, that it's working, that it has a ways to go, that noone was posing any questions of ground forces for ground invasionthat it's of academic interest at this point.
Q But it gives you more options if you need them, no?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's good to know thatthat's their position, in the event down the road other decisionsneed to be taken. But I repeat the leaders were unanimous thatwe have a viable strategy, we're going to stay the course, it isworking.
We had a very powerful briefing from both the chairman ofthe military committee and General Clark at the start ofyesterday's meeting, who made clear from their military point ofview that the strategy is having an effect, that if we canintensify the air campaign -- and that was the key thing agreedby the leaders, that we have to step up the tempo and the scopeof the targeting -- that with that we can achieve both seriousdamage at the strategic level and achieve a strategic isolationof Kosovo and thereby cut off the Serb forces there from commandstructure. And that through air power we still rate the chancesas high that we can achieve the objectives.
So, as I said, what the Albanians may be offering in thatregard is of interesting academic interest.
Q Thank you very much.