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Newsmaker: National Security Adviser Samuel Berger

December 18, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, the President’s National Security Adviser, Samuel Berger.
Thank you for being with us, Mr. Berger.

SAMUEL BERGER, National Security Adviser: It’s good to be here.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why weren’t 18 months enough? There were so many predictions that it would be enough.

SAMUEL BERGER: Well, we made enormous progress, as the President indicated, over the last 18 months. The war has ended. Three hundred and fifty thousand soldiers have been de-mobilized; seven thousand weapons have been destroyed. Normal life is returning to Bosnia. Unemployment’s been cut in half. Joint institutions have been formed; there have been three peaceful elections with 70 percent participation. So we’ve seen a lot of progress, but it will take some more time until that peace is self-sustaining, until it can continue to take momentum without the security of an international presence. And I think the President made the judgment, as our NATO allies have made, that some more time is needed to give the parties that security umbrella.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And would be the specific goals this time?

SAMUEL BERGER: The specific goals will be laid out in the mission of NATO as the planning goes on. There will be measurable benchmarks as we go along and reviews every six months, but there are such things as making sure that the joint institutions, which have been formed, begin to take on a more robust life of their own.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The three different groups–joint governing institutions, you mean–the joint presidency.

SAMUEL BERGER: The joint presidency, the supreme court, the parliament–to make sure that the police forces in these areas come under more professional supervision and are trained and are able ultimately to provide security for their own people, to make sure that the media, which has been dominated and controlled and has been an instrument of hate are putting under supervision of more forces in Bosnia so that they can be voices of reason. There are a number of these steps that have to take place before I think we can say with confidence that this peace can be self-sustaining, but it certainly has come a long way in the 24 months since Dayton, the 26 months since the shells were raining down on the city of Sarajevo and elsewhere, and one in 10 people in Bosnia were killed.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, a U.S. soldier from Montana or Oklahoma, wherever, would not necessarily be overseeing the media. What would the U.S. soldiers specifically be doing, anything different from what they’re doing now?

SAMUEL BERGER: These tasks are tasks for civil implement, implementers. There are literally hundreds of international groups of individuals in the country that are working on refugee returns, that are working on reconstruction, that are working on the media. This is fundamentally civil implementation– is fundamentally for civilians. What the military is able to do is to provide in a sense a security umbrella, so that that activity can take place with a high degree of confidence that it can go forward without problems.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How big would this force most likely be? I know NATO has to plan this force, but how big do you envision it?

SAMUEL BERGER: Well, let’s look at the history. We started with 27,000 troops–American–out of a force of 60,000 when we began. We’re down now to 8,500 out of a force–total force of about 36,000. NATO is now looking at three or four different options, different scope of mission. That will determine the force size, and I don’t want to pre-judge that now. The President will be presented and other leaders of NATO with this range of options, and they’ll make a judgment. We certainly would not expect it to be larger than it is now.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But it could be the same size?

SAMUEL BERGER: It could be the same size, or it could be somewhat smaller?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think that this force will have the mandate to go after former Bosnia Serb President Radovan Karadzic and the Bosnian Serb military, former military leader Mladic, who have been perhaps the most warranted of the indicted criminals?

SAMUEL BERGER: Well, let’s first make clear what Dayton provides. Under the Dayton Agreement, first of all, all indicted war criminals should be brought to justice under the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague. The first responsibility for doing that lies with the parties. We just negotiated with the Bosnian Croats, for example, the United States Government. They’re turning over 10 indicted war criminals to the Hague. So we will continue to push the parties. With respect to the military forces–

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me for interrupting. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it, the Bosnian Serb Party, turning them in?

SAMUEL BERGER: Well, they certainly haven’t up till now. And our mandate of the military forces there has not been to hunt down war criminals. That is not their function. But clearly where they have an opportunity to seize and apprehend someone indicted for war crimes, and they can do it at an acceptable risk. They are prepared to do that. Last night Dutch and American and other forces seize two indicted war criminals, and in the last–just since July the number of war criminals turned over at the Hague has tripled. Well over 20 now have been turned over to the Hague. So if I were Radovan Karadzic, I would not rest easy.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is acceptable risk the problem, that at this point it’s just the risks are not acceptable in both those cases?

SAMUEL BERGER: I don’t want to rule out anything. I don’t want anyone to feel that if they’re an indicted war criminal, they can sleep well tonight.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The President said today that some criteria must be met before he would approve any course that’s recommended by NATO. What are some of those criteria?

SAMUEL BERGER: Well, in addition to a mission that he believes is achievable, he has indicated that he wants to make sure that there’s a cost that is acceptable; he wants there to be an American commander as there is now; if we’re going to send American forces into a situation such as this. And he’s an American commander, and a range of factors of that nature.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: With an open-ended commitment, how will this force know that it’s time to leave?

SAMUEL BERGER: I would not describe this as open-ended. We will over the next three, four, five weeks with NATO, establish a series of objectives, a series of goals, measurable goals.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The goals you laid out earlier, those goals?

SAMUEL BERGER: Those are illustrative of a series of things, war criminals, other issues that we believe ought to be part of a mission. And NATO will review progress every six months. So long as we are making progress towards the ultimate objective of a self-sustaining peace, we should stay to get the job done. If we’re failing to make progress, for example, because the parties simply aren’t cooperating, then it will be impossible to do the mission, and we’d have to re-evaluate it.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How will you sell this to Congress? There are a lot of skeptics in Congress about this, and especially after the promises to be out in 18 months.

SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I think most people in Congress and most Americans should be very proud of what the United States has done. For four years there was the most brutal war raging in the middle of Europe, a war that could have easily drawn the United States into a combat situation in Europe, as we were in World War I and World War II. Through American leadership we forged a peace; through American leadership, we led NATO into a peacekeeping role; and we’ve accomplished a great deal. The President today quoted Sen. Dole, who we spoke to on the phone the night before last. Sen. Dole said, when you’re in the fourth quarter and when you’re leading, you don’t walk off the field and forfeit; you finish the game. And I think that’s what the President was saying today.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Turning to Iraq now, how can the stalemate with Iraq be broken? What can the United States do?

SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I think Amb. Butler, where you just had a clip from, said it very well. It is essential. The international inspectors, who are charged with looking for weapons of mass destruction, have access to any location that they deem to be necessary to fulfill their responsibility. Indeed, I don’t see how Saddam Hussein can say the sanctions should end, and he should be absolved because he’s done, he’s eliminated these weapons, if he’s going to deny UNSCOM the capacity to make that judgment. So at the very least he’s extended the sanctions. We have to continue to insist that he have the access. We hope we get a very firm and clear statement of that for the UN, and take this step by step. But we feel very strongly about this, and as the President has said, we’ve ruled out no option.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Would you update us on the buildup of U.S. military assets in the Gulf region?

SAMUEL BERGER: There are substantial military assets in the Gulf region.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We’ve continued to move them in.

SAMUEL BERGER: There are adequate resources in the region to do whatever we might need to do. Obviously, the best option here would be to gain the access that we need without use of military force, but the President has been very clear that this is a serious matter for the region, for the world, and he’s determined that we should have that access.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you have any kind of a time line that Saddam Hussein must allow an inspection of this palace or that palace, or what they call national sovereignty sites?

SAMUEL BERGER: Well, let’s see how this develops. And UNSCOM will set the pace to some degree, UNSCOM being the U.N. body that Mr. Butler leads, the professional inspectors. They’ll seek to go to sites; they will either be admitted or turned away. In the past, when they’ve been turned away, we’ve gone back to the U.N., and have–the U.N. has stood firm and access has been granted. But we can’t play this cat and mouse game forever, and we need to have–UNSCOM needs to have the access to make–to do its job and determine whether there are–where there are biological,chemical weapons, or the capacity to reconstitute them, and destroy them.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Mr. Berger, thank you for being with us.

SAMUEL BERGER: It’s a pleasure.