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Warren Christopher

November 27, 1995 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, welcome.


JIM LEHRER: First, just for the record, is the peace agreement holding as we speak tonight?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Yes. I think it’s holding quite well. Certainly the cessation of hostilities seems to be holding. I think we’re on schedule, on track, Jim. Just about what we expected from the outcome of Dayton seems to be taking place in Bosnia.

JIM LEHRER: What about the complaint of the Bosnian Serbs about Sarajevo, is that a serious problem?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: I think it’s not unexpected, Jim. When you have an agreement that was as hard fought as this one was in Dayton, you know, the situation in Dayton was really as difficult as I’ve ever seen it. Tensions were overt. The, the, really the hostility was very deep seated so it’s not surprising when an agreement is reached, compromises are made, that some of the people in Bosnia are going to be unhappy about it. I think we’re seeing some of that in Sarajevo, but the result there is the best one for the long-run, a unified city, and I look for the Bosnian government to give reassurance to the Serbs there in Bosnia that they really expect them to live in a condition of peace and tranquility.

JIM LEHRER: One of the concerns apparently is that the agreement also calls for the Muslims to be armed, and that that is what has got the Serbs there concerned. Is that a legitimate concern?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, let me say about the agreement, itself, Jim, it has very strong arms control provisions. We expect to try to create some equilibrium in the country through arms control and through build-down. Only if that’s unsuccessful will we resort to re-arming the Bosnians in order to create a situation where there’s an equilibrium where they are not really just a target for others. We’d really like to see this done, as I say, though, by arms control and by building down.

JIM LEHRER: So when the Bosnian Serb commander says, as he did in our News Summary just now, we’re not going anywhere, because we’re here to protect our people, he’s wrong about that? He’s going somewhere, sometime, is he not, if this thing holds?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: He absolutely is. Let me just put that in a little broader context.


SEC. CHRISTOPHER: As you probably know, President Milosevic of Serbia was authorized to negotiate not just for Serbia but for the Bosnian Serbs as well. He came with a direct authorization to that effect. Moreover, his delegation in Dayton had some Bosnian Serbs on it. One of the last things I talked to President Milosevic about was trying to get the Bosnian Serbs actually to initial the agreement themselves. He told me he would do it in 10 days. He had a letter to that effect. I was very pleased when that was done within two days. So that’s what I say, I think things are on track. There’s going to be some difficulties ahead, but we do not expect any massive resistance, any resistance from an army. There will be perhaps some scattered incidents of rogue elements that try to resist, but I think when they see the strength of the NATO forces which we expect to deploy there, I think they’ll have second thoughts about their resistance.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of resistance, what you’re reading tonight about the resistance within the Congress to sending U.S. troops, the 20,000 troops that would be part of a 60,000 NATO peacekeeping force.

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, we have a, certainly a difficult task of persuading the Congress to go ahead on this, but I see some improvement. The President will make a very important speech tonight spelling out the American leadership interests, the American vital interests, the American values that are at stake here, and I think that as we go through these next several days, a couple of weeks perhaps, you’ll see some movement in Congress, and although it will be a difficult task of persuasion, I believe it will be successful. I strongly believe that.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, explain–a lot of people don’t understand why 20,000 U.S. troops are so crucial. If you have 60,000 troops, what does it matter whether 20,000 of them are Americans, or whether they’re British or French or whatever?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Jim, this is a job that only NATO can do, only NATO has the professionalism, has the kind of troops that can do it. The United States is critical to NATO. We’re the leader in NATO, so NATO is not going to do this without the United States participation on the ground. The United States–

JIM LEHRER: Now, why? Why will they not do this without the U.S. participation on the ground?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Because we’re the leader of NATO, because our troops are essential to doing this job well. Our logistics are essential, and I think that the European countries simply will not think we’re serious about this. They will not be prepared to undertake the sacrifices, themselves, unless we’re in it with them. And certainly we ought to be, Jim. After all, we are the leaders of NATO. A leader can’t walk away from this. As a matter of fact, in the broader sense here, look what’s happened. This is a horrific war in Bosnia. Two hundred and fifty thousand people have been killed, two million refugees. With the United States leadership, we began to reverse the course in August. The United States leadership produced a massive bombing campaign that meant–told the Serbs we meant business. We got a cease-fire. We produced an agreement that there would be a single country, a single multiethnic country, and then in Dayton, we were able to persuade the parties, the three leaders there, to enter into quite a remarkable, detailed, comprehensive peace agreement. This is no time for the United States to walk away from this situation. I can’t imagine what the world would think of us if we’ve led this far and if we don’t follow through. Jim, we simply can’t shrink from this obligation we have, this opportunity we have to complete the task, to get a real peace in Bosnia, which will be, as I say, very important for United States interests as well as United States values.

JIM LEHRER: But what do you say, Mr. Secretary, to people who say, wait a minute, this is not a United States problem, this is a European problem, we had no business being over there in the first place, no business negotiating this peace, no business getting this committed to begin with?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Jim, European problems are very important to the United States. We have economic and political, social interests in Europe. Twice before this century, we’ve been drawn into European wars with tens of thousands of casualties, hundreds of thousands of men. This commitment of 20,000 men into a peacekeeping endeavor is a good investment to prevent us from being drawn into once again a major war in Europe. If we were to fail at this point, Jim, if we were to have come this far and then turn back from it, it seems quite clear to me that the violence would spread, the war would break out, and it would very likely extend to other parts of Europe. That would destabilize Europe and might produce well a situation where we’ve been drawn into a real war. We’re going there not in a war situation but in a peace situation so the real choice in a sense, Jim, is a choice between war and peace. We’ve got an opportunity for peace; we must take it.

JIM LEHRER: Several members of Congress, members of the U.S. Senate, in particular, said over the weekend that the case has not been made for the spilling of one ounce of blood by any young American in that place called Bosnia. Do you agree with them?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, we’re in the course of making that case, Jim. The President’s speech tonight will be very important. He’ll be meeting with congressional leaders tomorrow. This is an ongoing process, but I think there’s an extremely strong case for the United States involvement. When the American troops go in, of course, they’re the best trained, best equipped, the best troops probably in the history of we’ll do everything we can to minimize the possibility of any casualties, but no operation of that kind is entirely risk-free, so there is some possibility of that. But it is a very good investment to keep us from having far greater risk, the possibility of far greater casualties in the future.

JIM LEHRER: Is it just a simple fact, Mr. Secretary, that there would be no peace agreement without the pledge that you and the United States gave of the use of 20,000 troops for a peacekeeping force?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: There’s no question in my mind. There would have been no agreement in Dayton without the United States involvement. There will be no peace without the United States involvement and implementation. And the parties made it clear to me in Dayton that the United States commitment of being involved in the implementation force was crucial. It certainly was crucial to the Bosnian government.

JIM LEHRER: Why did you and the President elect not to go to Congress before that pledge was made in Dayton?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Jim, I testified extensively before the Dayton agreement, and I found that I was getting a lot of questions that could only be answered from the agreement. Now we’ve got a solid, comprehensive agreement. When we go back to testify on Capitol Hill, which we probably do later this week, we’ll have something to point to. So I think it was necessary to have the agreement which provides the foundation for asking the Congress for support.

JIM LEHRER: One of the other things they want, members of Congress want, is an exit date. And Sec. Perry has been rather specific in the last couple of days, eight or nine months of withdrawal would begin, all gone within a year. Can you be that precise?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, the military estimates are, Jim, that this job will require about a year to do. And that’s what we’re going on. And I think it’s very healthy to set an exit date, approximate exit date, because it helps avoid mission creep. It helps you know that what we’re there to do is implement the military provisions of the peace agreement.

JIM LEHRER: But what if you’re a trouble maker over there, and you know, well, the Americans are going to get out of here in a year, why not hold our fire until they get out, and then we can really make our mischief?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Of course, I’ve heard that argument a number of times. They made it in connection with the situation in Haiti, when the American multinational force was withdrawn. We’ll be withdrawing our force on schedule in Haiti as well. There are means to deal with that kind of troublemakers.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Speaking of Haiti, President Aristide hinted over the weekend that he might not leave as scheduled in February. What’s going on there, Mr. Secretary?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Jim, there will be an election there on the 17th of December to choose a new president. That new president will be inaugurated on the 7th of February. President Aristide has assured us that he will follow the constitution which requires that he not run this time, that there will be a new president on the 5th — on the 17th of December. There have been several clarifying statements today indicating that President Aristide will stick by the constitution and follow that schedule, and in recent days, he assured my colleague, Tony Lake, the national security adviser, that he will be following the constitution and following his pledge.

JIM LEHRER: And you consider that pledge, the United States considers that pledge ironclad. There was no way out of this for him, is that right?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: That’s right. But, of course, that’s a pledge that he has taken sometime ago. You know, he said, and I thought so eloquently, it’s the second election in a new democracy that’s so important, and I think he’s going to live up to that. He’s given us no reason otherwise, but I want to emphasize, Jim, that it’s the constitution that he is looking to primarily. He’s looking to that because he thinks that’s right for his country and right for his people.

JIM LEHRER: Not necessarily the deal with the United States?


JIM LEHRER: All right. Why is this causing a sudden surge of boat people, of people leaving Haiti, risking their lives to get out? There have been a thousand, as I reported, just this past week. What’s going on down there?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, of course, there is still very serious economic depravation in the country. If I had to guess, I would guess a number of those people are driven by economic concerns. There has been an up-surge in violence, but not nearly the kind of violence that we’ve seen there in the past. But I would–if I had to guess, I would guess it’s mainly a desire to come to the United States, which they’ll not be permitted to do, of course.

JIM LEHRER: The thing’s not falling apart, is it, Mr. Secretary?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: I do not think things are falling apart. I think we’ve had some incidents in the last few days, but I think the election will go forward on schedule and that we’ll see a Haiti which will continue to have problems because, you know, it’s had 200 years of one kind of depravation after another. But, no, I think things are going forward, but I don’t–I wouldn’t say that we shouldn’t expect some difficulty in the future. There will be difficulty for many years as that country tries to repair itself.

JIM LEHRER: And the United States is going to remain involved?

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: The United States will certainly remain involved from the standpoint of our aid. Our United Nations troops will leave on the 7th of February. United States troops are part of those. But we’ll continue to be involved in trying to assist the development of their economy, which, of course, is crucial.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Jim.