THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||April 24, 1999|
PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE PRESIDENT
International Trade Center Washington. D.C.
3:50 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: We have just about completed the firsttwo days of our NATO meeting, welcoming new members, adopting veryimportant changes to make NATO operations more relevant and moreeffective in meeting the new challenges of the 21st century.
We have also reaffirmed our determination on Kosovo toget the Serb forces out, to get the refugees back home under theprotection of an international security force moving towardself-government.
Yesterday we sent a strong message of support to thefrontline states who have risked and sacrificed so very much in thiscrisis. NATO will respond to any actions by Serbia against itsneighbors as a result of NATO presence on their territory during thiscrisis, or to any move to undermine the democratically-electedgovernment of Montenegro.
We also expressed our support for a genuine democratictransition in Serbia.
For five years now, we have been working to build a newNATO, prepared to deal with the security challenges of the newcentury. Today we reaffirmed our readiness in appropriatecircumstances to address regional and ethnic conflicts beyond theterritory of NATO members. I am pleased that our strategic conceptspecifically endorses the actions to such as those we are nowundertaking in Kosovo.
Now, this afternoon we will meet with President Kuchmato advance our cooperation with Ukraine. Tonight and tomorrow wewill gather with 23 of NATO's partner nations. The Partnership forPeace launched in 1994, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership started in1997, have clearly exceeded expectations. Sixteen partner nationsare now serving with NATO in Bosnia. Our forces have conductedliterally hundreds of exercises with forces from partner countries.These are the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, of the Caucasusin Central Asia, whose futures are clearly intertwined with ours.
Our Alliance also recognizes the tremendous importanceof Russia to Europe's future, and we are determined to supportRussia's transition to stronger democracy and more effective freemarkets, and to strengthen our partnership with Russia.
We worked closely with Russia for a peaceful solutionfor Kosovo at Rambouillet. While our allied nations all agree thatthe offer Mr. Milosevic has apparently made to former Prime MinisterChernomyrdin on Thursday was inadequate, nevertheless, we welcomeRussia's efforts and hope they will continue and ultimately result inSerb agreement to our conditions so that we can reverse the ethniccleansing in Kosovo.
That concludes my statement. Go ahead.
Q -- the Pentagon will be sending more tanks and moretroops to the Balkans, American Reserves will be called up. NATO maywell end up searching ships as part of an oil embargo, and still,Milosevic is not backing down. What specific assurances can you givethe American people that we are not drifting into a long and endlessconflict with no end in sight?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're not drifting, we are movingforward with a strategy that I believe strongly will succeed -- onethat we have reaffirmed here and intensified. I think the importantthing for everyone to understand is that in order for this strategyto succeed, we need two things: one, vigorous execution, and two,patience.
Keep in mind, we now know from the evidence that hascome out that the campaign Mr. Milosevic and the Serb leaders havecarried out against the people of Kosovo was planned in detail lastyear. It was not executed in October in no small measure because ofthe threat of action by NATO. It was executed when we began our aircampaign.
They had 40,000 troops in and around Kosovo, and almost300 tanks. It takes time to reverse that. But we are working on itand we will prevail if we execute well with real determination and ifwe have the patience.
I would remind all of you that it may seem like a longtime -- I don't think this air campaign has been going on aparticularly long time. In the Persian Gulf, there were 44 days ofbombing before there was any kind of land action. And the land wasflatter, the targets were clearer, the weather was better. We aredoing what needs to be done here with great vigor, and I am convincedwe will prevail if we have the patience. We have to be prepared notonly to execute with determination, but to pay the price of time.
Q -- European pillar in NATO. Are you satisfied thatthe outcome in the statement will not allow a split to occur betweenEuropean forces and the American forces? And specifically, what rolewill the Western European Union play in the UK?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think the languagespeaks for itself. Europe will have to decide exactly how toconstitute this force, and also how to make it effective. One of thethings that I think that will receive nearly no publicity during thismeeting, obviously because of the dominance -- appropriate dominanceof Kosovo in the news, is the document we adopted today that dealswith the European security initiative, but also deals with what wecan do to make all of our efforts more effective, including enhancingthe defense capabilities of all of our allies.
As long as this operation -- however it's constituted bythe Europeans -- operates within in cooperation with NATO, I think itwill strengthen the capability of the Alliance and I think it willactually help to maintain America's involvement with NATO.
We have members of the Congress here today -- SenatorRoth sitting here on the front row, has been one of the strongestsupporters of our partnership with NATO and with our European allies.But I believe this is a very, very positive thing. The details arefor the Europeans to decide and you should ask them that, but as longas it's consistent with the Berlin principle -- that is, separable,but not separate from NATO -- I think it willwork very well.
Q Mr. President, the buildup of American troops andallied troops in Macedonia and Albania seem to smack of potentialintervention, military intervention, despite ground troops, all yourprotestations.
THE PRESIDENT: Is that a question? (Laughter.)
Q That's a question. I mean, is that true?(Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: The short answer is, no. Let me remindyou, we are in Macedonia and Albania to try to help them -- two verybrave countries with very strong-willed leaders, operating underextreme duress -- we're trying to help them manage a massive refugeeproblem. And in Albania, we have troops there, also, to secure thehelicopter operation we have put in there and to make sure that wecan secure it not only as it's moved in, but as it becomesoperational.
Q How much of a guarantee can countries in theSoutheast Europe region get that they will actually be an importantpart of the reconstruction once the Kosovo conflict is over?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that is what we will deal withtomorrow when we meet with the leaders of all those nations. Lastweek, I went to San Francisco to speak to the American NewspaperEditors to outline what I believe is an essential part of thelong-term solution to the problems of the Balkans and SoutheastEurope generally. They are not yet sufficiently a part of the futurewe all imagine for Europe in the 21st century, which is not onlypeace and stability, but also prosperity and shared decision-making.
So my view is that we should do more to draw thosenations closer to one another, to give them a positive reason to worktogether, and to properly treat the ethnic minorities within theirborders and work out ways for them to participate in the life oftheir country, as well as to maintain their own religious andcultural traditions. And we should work out ways for the nations ofthat region to relate more closely to all the European institutionsand to Canada and the United States and North America.
So, to me, this will not work over the long run -- ifyou don't want to see this repeated, what we're doing now, it is notenough to defeat this moment of aggression and to reverse it and tosend the Kosovars back home. We are going to have to create analternative positive future. We know what the history of ethnicanimosity in the Balkans is. We know that there is not a singleethnic group, even the Serbs, who cannot cite some historic exampleof legitimate grievance that can be manipulated by an unscrupulouspolitician.
So what we need, with all these magnets pulling thepeople apart, we need a powerful set of magnets pulling the peopletogether. And those have to be economic, as well as political andsecurity. So the NATO open-door policy, the European Union'sopen-door policy, the prospect of new cooperation with all the statesof Southeastern Europe among themselves, and with Europe and theUnited States and Canada -- I think this is a very, very importantthing.
Over the long run, we have to do this -- we have tocreate a positive future for this part of Europe if we want to avoidbeing in the very position we're in today again in a fewyears, in another place.
Q Mr. President, there seems to be a great deal ofconcern about the oil embargo that NATO has endorsed. The French areexpressing concern that if military force is used to enforce it, thatit would amount to an act of war. I'm wondering, doyou agree with that assessment? And are you concerned that, on onehand, you're encouraging the Russians to negotiate a settlement, andon the other hand, they may be caught in the middle of an oil embargoclash?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, of course, I hope that won'thappen. But let me tell you where we're coming from. We sent ourpilots into the air to destroy the oil refinery and supply systems ofSerbia, and they did so successfully. They risked their lives to doit. How can we justify risking the lives of the pilots to go up anddestroy the refinery and the supply capacity of Serbia and then say,but it's okay with us if people want to continue to supply thisnation and its outlaw actions in Kosovo in another way?
So what we have done is we've asked our ministers ofdefense to come up with a plan that will apply in an even-handed way.Obviously, we don't expect it to and we will not do anything to tryto see that it leads to violence. But we have to be firm about it.And if we want this campaign to succeed with economic and politicalpressure and with the air action, then we have to take everyreasonable means to give it the chance to succeed. And that's whatwe intend to do.
Q Mr. President, the Austrian former Prime Minister,Mr. Vranitzky, was proposed by Secretary General Kofi Annan as apossible candidate for a peace mission to Kosovo. Would you kindlyexplain to us whether this has your approval and what you wouldexpect from such a mission?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I can't respond to your specificquestion for a very simple reason -- I did not know which individualswere being considered by the Secretary General until, oh, a couple ofhours ago. So I've had no direct communication with the SecretaryGeneral, nor have I even discussed it with the members of my staff.
I have, as it happens, known Mr. Vranitzky for manyyears; I knew him before I was President, before I was a candidatefor President. I have an enormously high regard for him, personally.But in order to make a judgment about that, I would have to have aclear idea about exactly what it is -- what is the mission and whatwould be the parameters of it. So I can't really comment on thespecifics. But I do have a very high regard for him, personally. Ithink he's an excellent man.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, a lot ofpeople have a clear understanding when you authorize bombing missionsagainst military targets -- tanks, armor, military headquarters. Butthey have a little bit more difficulty understanding why you wouldauthorize bombing Serb television in the middle of the night, knowingthere are journalists working there, knowing there are cleaning crewsthere, knowing these people have no choice but to work there, andalso know that within a matter of hours, Serb TV would be back on theair at some other location.
So the question is, what goes through your mind, knowingyou're going to, in effect, authorize the killing of these people forquestionable military gains?
THE PRESIDENT: Our military leaders at NATO believe,based on what they have seen and what others in the area have toldthem, that the Serb television is an essential instrument of Mr.Milosevic's command and control. He uses it to spew hatred and tobasically spread disinformation. He does not use it to show all theKosovar villages he's burned, to show the mass graves, to show thechildren that have been raped by the soldiers that he sent there.
It is not, in a conventional sense, therefore, a mediaoutlet. That was a decision they made, and I did not reverse it, andI believe that I did the right thing in not reversing that decision.
Q Mr. President, -- concept practically legitimatesNATO action beyond the borders. How far geographically --
THE PRESIDENT: I don't think it's a geographical issue.I think that what we tried to do was to say that there are somethings which can occur in Europe, in non-member nations, that canaffect the security and stability of all of Europe, including NATOmembers. And I think the language should speak for itself.
Q Mr. President, before the air campaign began,Pentagon planners advised you, according to reports that have notbeen denied, that the air campaign could degrade, it could damage, itcould diminish, but it could not by itself stop the killing on theground in Kosovo if Milosevic intended to persevere. You have saidagain today that you will continue the air campaign and that youbelieve it will prevail. Have the Pentagon planners given you newadvice? Have they changed their mind? And if not, sir, on what doyou base your optimism?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I believe, first,the report that you have from the Pentagon planners is an accurateone and is what I believed to be the case at the time.
Keep in mind -- and I think I made this clear at thetime -- the reason we went forward with the air actions is because wethought there was some chance it would deter Mr. Milosevic based ontwo previous examples -- number one, last October in Kosovo, when hewas well poised to do the same thing; and number two, in Bosnia,where there were 12 days of NATO attacks over a 20-day period.However, I also well understood that the underlying facts weresomewhat different. I still believe we did the right thing. And Ibelieve, as one of the area's leaders said in the last couple ofdays, it would have been much worse had we not taken action.
Now, there is a literal sense, Sam, in which, from theair, you cannot take every Serbian body in a uniform on the ground inKosovo and extract them from Kosovo and put them back in Serbia.That, I think, is self-evident to everyone. So when I tell you thatI think this will work, what I mean by that is I think if we executewell, if we are determined and if we spendenough time doing it, we will either break down his military capacityto retain control over Kosovo, or the price of staying there will befar greater than the perceived benefits.
That is the logic behind the campaign -- not that itwill physically extract every person and put them back across theborder. Everyone knows that's not true. And I'm glad you asked thequestion because I think it's very important that everyone be clearon this.
This is - my belief is that if we vigorously,comprehensively execute the air campaign, and if we are prepared totake the time and do our very best to care for the refugees as bestwe can in the meanwhile, and to provide stability and support to thefrontline states, and especially to Albania and Macedonia, that wewill prevail. That is what I believe. And I believe we will do itbecause we have the capacity to dramatically degrade his militaryoperation which is the instrument of his control, and because we havethe capacity to make this policy very, very expensive for himmilitarily and economically, and in other ways
Yes, sir, in the back.
Q Mr. President, under the scenario that you've justlaid out doesn't mean that he would necessarily comply with the fiveconditions, which would also mean that it might be too high to keephis forces there, the cost, but then you would have to be willing tomove some forces in to take the ground that they could no longerhold. And it seems at the moment there's no willingness to do that.
THE PRESIDENT: Our position on that I think is thecorrect one. The Secretary General has recommended a reassessment ofwhat would be required. I think that everybody in the Allianceagrees with his decision; that is the correct decision. But we havenot weakened our conditions, nor will we. If anything, I think thismeeting has seen not only a reaffirmation, but an intensification bydetermination to see the refugees back in, the Serb forces out, aninternational force to protect them, and the movement towardself-government for the Kosovars.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)