|SEC. ALBRIGHT BRIEFING|
March 25, 1999
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright updates the diplomatic and humanitarian situation in Yugoslavia.
Good afternoon. In his remarks today and previously, President Clinton has explained why America and our NATO allies made the decision to launch air strikes against the military capacities of the Milosevic regime. NATO Headquarters and the Defense Department are providing more detailed information on the results of last night's operations; but I wanted to take this opportunity to bring you up to date on our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts.
First, we must be clear that there is one reason only that we have moved from diplomacy backed by the threat of force to the use of force backed by diplomacy. That reason is President Milosevic. It is impossible for us to negotiate while he builds up his forces, attacks civilians and torches villages in Kosovo. NATO's actions are intended to further peace and security in Europe and to bring an end to atrocities and a humanitarian crisis.
Now that air strikes have begun, our diplomatic goals are fourfold:
First, ensuring that the necessity for military action is understood around the world;
Second, maintaining the unity of our coalition on planning next steps;
Third, maintaining contact with Russia and making clear that our differences over Kosovo need not disrupt progress on other fronts;
And fourth, remaining in close communication with leaders in the region to address humanitarian concerns, respond to fears, and prevent unpleasant surprises.
We're very pleased with the broad international support NATO actually has achieved. In the past 24 hours, President Clinton has spoken with a great many European leaders. I've been in virtually constant contact with my counterparts in NATO and Contact Group states, as well as the leaders of countries that border Serbia and key members of the UN Security Council. Based on those contacts, I can assure you that the allies are united and supported by many NATO partners behind forceful and sustained NATO action.
As you know, Russia does not agree with our decision to launch military strikes, but Russian leaders deserve credit for the efforts they made to persuade Milosevic to accept the Rambouillet accords. We are and will remain in close touch. Both sides recognize the importance of our relationship and the need to continue to work together on many shared concerns.
Regrettably, Milosevic's forces in Kosovo are today continuing their offensive against civilians, burning and looting and attacking political leaders. Sixty thousand people have been forced to flee their homes in the last five weeks, and that number is increasing daily. We are working with Kosovo's neighbors to help them prepare for a flood of new refugees.
I spoke yesterday with Mrs. Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and assured her that we and our partners are prepared to help in every way possible to care for those who fled for their lives. Here in the Department, Assistant Secretary Julia Taft is leading an interagency group so that we can deal with the humanitarian problems.
These developments are unfortunately exactly what we have come to expect from President Milosevic. They underscore the need for sustained military action to limit the capability of his military to threaten innocent people in Kosovo. I also want to stress that President Milosevic should not attempt to use this crisis to broaden the conflict or spread violence and instability elsewhere in the region. Nor should he attack the democratically-elected government of Montenegro, whose approach to the crisis has been rational and constructive, in stark contrast to that of President Milosevic.
It must be very clear that we will not tolerate attacks on Americans or other foreigners or mistreatment of foreign journalists in Serbia. We hold the authorities in Belgrade responsible for their safety. Finally, let me say again that these strikes are not an end in themselves; rather they are a means we had hoped would not be necessary to an end that is necessary. That goal is peace and stability in Kosovo and throughout the Balkans.
In the days to come, our diplomatic efforts toward that end will continue, and we remind President Milosevic that the accords negotiated at Rambouillet are still on the table. They remain the best hope for a peaceful future in Kosovo and for a return to normalcy for all of the people of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, just to be clear about it, please, is there diplomacy going on? You speak of no point of it now unless he's willing to stop some of these things he's been doing. Then you say in the days ahead, we'll try. Is there a channel open; is someone trying -- if not the United States -- to get, if not negotiations, at least talks going? And are you confident that force can produce the diplomacy, the settlement that you and a lot of the allies seek?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, let me say that diplomatic channels remain open. Ambassador Hill is in Skopje, and he made clear upon his departure from Belgrade that he was available if the Serb parties wished to be in contact with him. They know his number; they also know others. So diplomatic channels are open.
I think it is very important to understand that obviously the choice here -- President Milosevic can make the choice to have a peaceful settlement. The force that is being used -- the objectives of that is in order to deter him from building up this offensive that is going on in Kosovo; and secondly, if he is not deterred, to seriously damage his ability to be able to undertake the horrendous things he has been doing versus the Kosovar people.
I believe that the force that is being used has an important objective, and President Milosevic is the one who can determine whether he is prepared to deal on a peace settlement.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. You now, in the last things you said, you're focusing on one of the two things that the US holds him at fault for -- actually what he's doing on the ground. If he relents on the ground -- I know you don't want to negotiate with the press in a briefing -- but if he should relent on the ground, does that establish a basis for talking to him again, or does he have to signal he accepts the entire package for Kosovo?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that, first of all, it is essential that he stop what he is doing on the ground. That was one of the points that Ambassador Holbrooke made clear, that he could not continue to have this kind of a build-up and be so threatening.
What we have said is that he needs to, for a peace settlement, embrace the framework of Rambouillet. As I said in my prepared remarks, the accords are on the table.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, have there been any contacts with the Serbs today? And can you be a little more explicit about how you are trying to get by this problem with the Russians? What kind of conversations have you had? How are you going to bring them back into NATO; have they said that their withdrawal from NATO cooperation is a temporary thing?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: To the best of my knowledge, Carol, there have been no American Government contacts with Milosevic today. I have actually been talking to Ambassador Chris Hill, who has another problem, which is that the embassy in Skopje has been attacked by an angry mob. Some vehicles were damaged because they entered the compound, but everybody is safe -- just as a parenthesis.
On the Russians, let me say, first of all, that we do disagree on the use of force in this event. We did not disagree about the political parts of the Rambouillet document. We have many issues on which we deal in the short, medium and long-term. Both countries, I think -- I know, because I've spoken with Prime Minister Ivanov a number of times -- are determined to make those immediate short, medium and long-term relationships and objectives -- we're determined to continue to working on those. I think we will continue to keep in touch, and I just ask you to note that even now there are some agreements that are being carried out because some of the committees came over as part of the Gore-Primakov Commission; so there have been agreements on health, science and on nuclear issues.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you say that the NATO alliance is unified. However, earlier today the Italian Prime Minister made some comments before a meeting of the European Union, in which he said that perhaps the Russian suggestion that the Contact Group should meet is a good one, and that perhaps the time for diplomacy is now. Have you been contacted, or has this Administration had any contact today with the Italian Government? How do you read this? And do you think that perhaps the Contact Group should meet?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, let me say that my contacts today -- I spoke to Secretary General Solana, and he was well-satisfied with the unity of the allies. They had had a meeting -- I don't know whether it was formal or informal -- but they had met and he was satisfied. I have not spoken to the Italians today. I will call them.
I think, obviously, as I've said, President Milosevic is the one that can decide if he's ready to talk about peace within the framework of the Rambouillet accords. There will be a time for diplomacy. But I think that this air campaign is going on and it has an objective and it will last as long as necessary.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, just to follow-up -- you say that there will be a time for diplomacy, but are you saying that this is not that time right now -- that the Contact Group shouldn't meet?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: There is no indication that there is any change at all in Milosevic's position. As I said to Barry, he knows how to get in touch with us.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the media, as you know, is being forced out Serbia pretty much -- the Western media, at least -- certainly out of Kosovo. Accounts from people on the ground there not in the media sound horrific -- refugees being herded into camps, villages being surrounded and shelled, by all accounts looks pretty much like Bosnia and perhaps other places we've seen in Europe this century. The Albanians look to the United States -- particularly ethnic Albanians -- particularly for protection in this very situation. I'm wondering whether there's anything the United States is prepared to do, NATO is prepared to do other than degrade their air defenses at this point to ease the situation for the thousands of people fleeing there?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think that your explanation of what is going on is also a good explanation to the American people as to why we have undertaken this action, and very much emphasizes the kinds of points that President Clinton made yesterday about why this was necessary and that we could not stand by and watch this go on.
We are obviously thinking about the front line states. I have been in touch with President Gligorov as well as with the Foreign Minister of Albania. We will stay in very close touch with them. The Secretary General of NATO wrote to the Prime Ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia and to President Gligorov to reiterate NATO's support for the territorial integrity of their countries. In all the letters, Solana emphasized that any Yugoslav threat to the security of these countries would be unacceptable and that the Alliance would view any attack on them with utmost seriousness.
As we have noted previously, there are a number of ways in which Milosevic might respond to the NATO air strikes which are now underway. NATO is formulating detailed plans for reacting to all of these possible scenarios.
We also are, as I mentioned earlier, very much concerned about the outflow of refugees. That is what I talked to Mrs. Ogata about. The US is -- I can't now remember the number -- upping our assistance, and also talking -- it was very convenient -- all the Europeans were together yesterday in Berlin. I talked to them sequentially. To each one, I pointed out the importance of assisting economically in some way to deal with the problems that you're talking about.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you just used the words today that you want President Milosevic to "embrace the framework of Rambouillet." Should we read that as saying the Rambouillet accords, as signed by the Kosovar Albanians, are negotiable?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Are what?
QUESTION: Are negotiable?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, I'm saying that they are on the table and that President Milosevic knows what he has to do. The Kosovar Albanians signed a document. But we had said before that there were technical adjustments. But I'm not going to go into the details of that.
I want to make very clear that the Rambouillet accords are on the table. Milosevic knows what's there. Milutinovic indicated that he favored the political parts of the document. When we were at Rambouillet, he walked that back when they came to Paris, and they have not engaged at all on the implementation parts of it. They have a long way to go, but it's on the table.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, what do you do if these air strikes continue and Milosevic does not agree to come to the table. Military experts say that these kinds of air strikes without ground troops backing them up rarely are successful. Do you have a plan B?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that I am very satisfied on the briefings I've had, and I think that the military have laid out a very substantial air campaign. I'm not going to discuss the details of any of that. We believe that it is well planned out, and Milosevic will either have been deterred from undertaking these horrors against the Kosovar people, or his ability to do so will have been seriously damaged, in which case we have helped the ordinary, suffering people of Kosovo to be able to have some respite.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in an interview last night you talked about this being an important moment for the 20th Century. I wonder if you could expand on that here. Also, you've talked about how there's concern that this conflict could spread into a wider war. But some historians, who believe we should be involved for humanitarian reasons, don't believe that the area is a powder keg anymore and would spread to a wider conflict. How do you respond to that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, let me say about the moment of the 20th Century. Here we are in 1999, at the end of what historians agree has been the bloodiest century in the history of the world. We know how the blood was created and why it happened. It happened because there were evil dictators or aggressive leaders in countries who felt that their own space was not big enough and that they had to expand it. It took a long time for those with good intentions to understand that without their direct involvement those dictators would be able to not only spread fear among their neighbors, but to systematically murder the people within that they did not like for ethnic reasons.
I believe that as we came out of the era of the Second World War and then the divisions created by the horrors of the Cold War, where Europe was divided and half the people were also not able to live freely, that we have an opportunity now. This is what President Clinton has been talking about -- to finally have a Europe that is free and undivided and prosperous. The reason that Americans should care about that is that our own economic prosperity and security is very evidently tied to Europe.
I think that we have an opportunity to learn from the mistakes that our predecessors made, the slowness of responding, of not dealing with wars or problems when they were small and coming in -- I am somebody who was liberated by Americans, but I think that if things had been done earlier, not so many lives would have been lost.
I think also, the question that you asked about the Balkans -- it has always been a difficult area. World War I started in it; World War II was fought there. All you have to do is look at the map and understand the ethnic composition of these countries. Again, the President, I think, explained very clearly last night the fact that Kosovo itself is made up primarily -- 90 percent -- of Albanians of Muslim religion, and there are other minorities there. Interestingly enough, the Rambouillet accords protect those minorities and allow them to be able to practice their legitimate rights.
In Albania, there are Greeks; and Macedonia itself is a very complicated country in terms of its ethnic composition -- Macedonians and Albanians and a very small Serb minority that has been whipped up today by a Serb political leader. So that ethnic composition is one, I think, that creates difficulties and there have been long-standing rivalries. I think we have an opportunity not to have this spill out beyond control.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, not only the Italians are calling for a Contact Group meeting, but also the Greeks as early as last night. There are some indications that the French are kind of uneasy with what's going on. Outside of NATO, there are the Chinese and the Russians. You mentioned today -- you also mentioned the unrest in Macedonia. Are you concerned at all that the wider conflict that you are seeking to prevent by going in with this bombing may actually occur as a result of it?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, I am not. I think that it is very important for us to carry on this air campaign for as long as it takes to achieve the objectives that I stated earlier, which is to deter Milosevic and to seriously damage his capability. We are in very close touch with the Allies. I will be doing more of that -- maybe Jamie [Rubin] can give you a whole list of all the people that I've talked to -- but I will continue to do that. NATO is an alliance that operates by consensus and as I've said, I spoke with the Secretary General this morning. It is very clear that the Russians do not agree, and the Chinese do not agree, but they are not in NATO.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, can you give us a more detailed accounting of what's going on on the ground in Kosovo? Have the Serbs increased their assaults since the air strikes? And are you confident that you really know what's going on on the ground because the international monitors are out?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, to answer your last question, it's obviously not as clear as it was before. But mainly what we have is a report that there is no lessening of the Serb buildup; not what we had asked for, which was that they needed to get their military back into garrison and to come back into compliance. So there's no evidence of that. There are some reports about torchings and continued harassment of the populations -- maybe you can give them a real update -- I got a very brief one this morning.
The main thing is that nothing has changed, in that Milosevic -- the deter part, I think he has not gotten the message yet.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you and others within the Administration have characterized first Bosnia and now Kosovo as a test of the new NATO. Something that makes Kosovo unique is that it is a crisis that unfolds within the borders of a sovereign country. There are also questions about international law. Are these elements that you think make Kosovo a "one off" in the new NATO's mandate? Or in the post-Cold War world are they going to be "one offs," and Kosovo is symptomatic of what NATO will be addressing in the future in these areas?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I think -- and it goes to the question I was asked here -- we lived in a very different world until the Berlin Wall came down. I think we all know why NATO was founded, and it was founded to deal with a single threat by the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. With the end of both and the fact that NATO, I think, is the most remarkable military alliance of all time and is necessary still, NATO obviously has to change its mission. We have to see what it is that are the major threats that face the NATO countries.
From our estimation, the biggest threat that we have now is the threat of chaos and instability, which comes about as a result -- a variety of reasons -- but one is ethnic tensions, border disputes, and something that we have said in NATO -- the existence of weapons of mass destruction used by terrorists.
I do think that the NATO alliance has great relevancy to the 21st century and the end of the 20th in dealing with what we see now as the major threats. Clearly, Kosovo fits with the fact that here there is an ethnic conflict, which has created huge numbers of displaced people and refugees, an overly large number of massacred people with slit throats. I believe that it is an appropriate thing for NATO to be doing. Milosevic has started a number of wars in the region. It all started with his attacks on Slovenia. We all know his record in Croatia and Bosnia. He has no regard for international borders. I think that his pleading that he is a sovereign country is very much like the child who killed his parents and pleaded that he was an orphan.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in your opening statement you mentioned Montenegro. Clearly, you must be very concerned about the threats to Montenegro. Are you concerned enough to offer a security guarantee, either implicit or explicit? And if I could tack on one other little question on this, there seems to be an eclipsing of the Security Council institutionally, NATO has taken over. Instead of referring to the Charter of the United Nations, there are people referring to violations of humanitarian law. Is this because of the disarray and the disunity in the Security Council, or is this part of NATO's new mission?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: What was the first --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Montenegro. Let me say here we obviously are concerned about Montenegro. We have been in very close touch with Djukanovic. We staunchly support him and other democratic elements. We are concerned about the possibility of civil strife there and we want them to remain calm.
I think that it is very important that the FRY leadership understand that any attempt to either overthrow the democratically-elected government or to create instability would lead to deeper isolation for the Serbs, for the FRY, and escalate the conflict with NATO. So I think that we have made quite clear that they should not get involved there.
QUESTION: A security guarantee, or do you need --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just explain on the UN. I think that Secretary General Annan gave a statement yesterday in which he correctly acknowledged that the FRY is responsible for the failure of the international community's efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement. His statement acknowledges that there are times when the use of force is necessary in the pursuit of peace.
The Council has, in fact, been fully involved in issues of Kosovo for over a year, as it has looked at the humanitarian. It's expressed itself several times on the dangers of the situation created by the humanitarian crisis and the dangers that it poses and the threats that it poses to peace and security in the region.
Acting under Chapter 7, the Security Council adopted three resolutions -- 1160, 1199 and 1203 -- imposing mandatory obligations on the FRY; and these obligations the FRY has flagrantly ignored. So NATO actions are being taken within this framework, and we continue to believe that NATO's actions are justified and necessary to stop the violence.
I think the issue here is one where NATO is operating by consensus and within what we believe are legitimate parameters.
QUESTION: Thank you.