February 23, 1999
After 17 days of negotiations, the Kosovo peace talks adjourned without a firm agreement. The two sides plan to meet again in March. Jim Lehrer discusses the peace talks with National Security Adviser Samuel Berger.
JIM LEHRER: The Kosovo peace talks, and to President Clinton's national security advisor, Samuel Berger. Mr. Berger, welcome.
SAMUEL BERGER, National Security Adviser: Good evening.
JIM LEHRER: The results today must be a disappointment to you and others in the administration. Is that right?
|Disappointment in Rambouillet?|
SAMUEL BERGER: No, I would put it this way: I think we made an important step forward today, but there's still work to be done. What happened today was that an Albanian Kosovar delegation, which two weeks ago wouldn't have even sat in the same room together, ranging from the President, Rugava, to insurgents agreed, in principle, to a blueprint for autonomy in Kosovo, over the next three years subject to going back and checking with their people and over the next two weeks. I think that's very significant. Second of all, for the first time in negotiations, the Serbs and the Kosovars have agreed that Kosovo should be -- have self-government for the next three years.
Now, that's the good news. What still remains to be done is very important. And that is that this agreement will never get implemented unless there is an external NATO force on the ground which will supervise the departure of the Serbian police, the departure of the Serbian army, the disarmament of the Albanian - KLA, and provide a secure environment in which the civilian people can stand up to the police force and the Kosovar people could get about the business of having elections and running their own schools and running their own hospitals. Now that is the big remaining unresolved question, unresolved issue. And that's the issue that President Milosevic has to face over the next two to three weeks.
JIM LEHRER: Now, let's go there and work our way back. Let's start with the end there, the bad news. Now, the Serbs have said no way will they agree to a NATO peacekeeping force, correct?
SAMUEL BERGER: What they've said in the statement today is they now agree to discuss an international presence. They have not agreed to a NATO peacekeeping force, but I think in order for there to be a force on the ground that has sufficient credibility, that will give both sides confidence, that it will be implemented, it needs to be a NATO-led force. On the one hand, that will give the Kosovars confidence that the Serb military will leave, but from a Serbian perspective the Kosovars have agreed today to disarmament, to a demilitarization.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the Kosovars have agreed -
SAMUEL BERGER: Agreed in principal.
JIM LEHRER: -- to a foreign force, right, to an international force?
SAMUEL BERGER: That's correct. They've not only agreed to, they've asked for it.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Now, have the Serbs agreed to get their army and get their police out of there?
SAMUEL BERGER: No. The portion -- what they've agreed to essentially are the -- is the nature of self-government in Kosovo, by and large. There remains some issues. By and large for the first time in negotiations with the Kosovars -- they've agreed to Kosovar self-government. There still are certain issues to be resolved. What they have not agreed to is the military provisions. And those are critical.
JIM LEHRER: Because without them, as you said, there is no first part.
SAMUEL BERGER: That's right. This is one integral agreement. Those involve the departure of most of the Serb police and military from Kosovo and the introduction for some transitional period of an external NATO-led force. And the world now focuses on the Serbs. Now that the Kosovars have come together across this broad spectrum of opinion and have reached this agreement in principle, now the world focuses on the Serbs as to whether or not Milosevic is going to agree to something that could bring peace to this area and could keep Kosovo in Serbia but can take Serbia, in a sense, out of Kosovo.
JIM LEHRER: Now, if they don't agree, they get bombed, is that right?
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, if they don't agree, the situation is going to remain unstable, presumably violent, and NATO has made clear that air power from NATO is available in the hands of the secretary-general to deal with situations in which the - in which the Serbs are conducting offensive operations.
|The threat of air strikes.|
JIM LEHRER: What do you say to those -- we had some folks on this program last night, in fact, some analysts here in Washington, former State Department men among others, who said the reason this isn't working is that Milosevic knows that NATO isn't about to bomb him. So it's kind of a fruitless threat.
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I think that's a mistake that Saddam Hussein made, too, in terms of predicting. The fact of the matter is that the 16 countries in NATO, soon to be 19, the 16 countries of NATO have voted to authorize the secretary-general, Mr. Solana, to have the authority to use air power against Serbia if they're acting in an offensive way against - to oppress the Kosovars. It's very much on the table and the secretary-general later -- late this afternoon after the meeting in Rambouillet broke up reiterated that he believes all of those tools remain at his disposal.
JIM LEHRER: Now, let's take the what happens next, though, before there could be -- what does this two weeks mean? The Kosovars haven't agreed to anything formally either, have they?
SAMUEL BERGER: They've agreed in principle. Let's remember here you're dealing not with a constituted government that has years of history of dealing together. You're dealing with -
JIM LEHRER: You're talking about the Kosovars.
SAMUEL BERGER: The Kosovars. You're dealing with a delegation that ranges, as I said, from the sort of shadow president, Mr. Rugova, all the way over to the KLA, who are insurgents and have been engaged in a guerrilla fight. In the last two weeks they have come together and have accepted this blueprint. Now what they have said is they want to go back to Kosovo, they want to explain what this means to the Kosovar people. This is an 80-page document that talks about how their lives are going to be run, gives them the power to run their own lives over the next three years. And I think they want to discuss that with the Kosovar people and gain the kind of support that they need. Either they -- either they won't have that support-- better for us to learn that now than later-- or they'll have that support, in which case they'll come back and their signature will be stronger and more valid.
JIM LEHRER: But if, for some reason, in two weeks they don't sign this, then the whole thing is over, right?
|A fire burning in the middle of Europe.|
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I don't think the international community can wash our hands of this problem. This is a fire burning in the middle of Europe. You know, we're better off than we were... Let's put this back in a little perspective. Back in October, we had a quarter of a million Albanians up in the mountains, been driven up there by Serb offenses. We reached an agreement, we got them back into their homes, the fighting died down for a period. Now what we're trying to do is to reach some sort of a durable peace and an arrangement by which the Kosovars can govern themselves and we can establish a political equilibrium in that country. So obviously if they don't agree to this in two weeks, that would be a setback. But peacemaking is not for those who are only in for the short run.
JIM LEHRER: What do you say to those who say, "Hey, wait a minute. The Kosovars are having problems coming to grips with this; the Serbs haven't agreed to anything. Why are we try so hard to force two parties who don't want to have peace to actually have peace?"
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I take a little bit of an issue with the question, Jim, because in two weeks, as I say, this Kosovar delegation, never in the room together before, representing very factions of Kosovo have come together around a blueprint for Kosovo.
JIM LEHRER: So you're convinced they really do want this thing settled?
SAMUEL BERGER: I think they do, that's correct. I think they want this autonomy, and they want to have a NATO force on the ground to enforce it. Now, Milosevic now has to make a decision.
JIM LEHRER: The president of Yugoslavia.
SAMUEL BERGER: Right. Is he going to now in a sense save Kosovo as part of Serbia but give Kosovo self-government, or is he going to go back to war in which he knows that NATO is prepared if he launches a brutal assault to go back against it? And I think that that's a calculation he is going to have make. I would say the range of the world is focused on him, even the Russians are urging him now to come to grips with this and accept this agreement.
JIM LEHRER: But they adamantly oppose NATO bombing.
SAMUEL BERGER: Correct. But they are very steadfastly have been for this peace agreement. This peace agreement has been sponsored by something called the contact group, which is made up of mostly European countries, allies, plus Russia. And they have been very clear that they believe the solution here is not through repression or not through crushing the Kosovars, but the solution here is through a peace agreement and I think that's what we've got to keep pressing for.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Berger, I know you've answered this, we've talked about this before on this program, but one more time explain why this is so important to the interest of the United States of America --why the secretary of state, for instance, has spent hours over there trying to get this thing worked out. And not only the secretary, but many other people in the State Department working, working so hard, why is this so important to us?
|U.S. national interests?|
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I think it's a very fair and important question. What is the national interest here? That's the first question, I think, that we have to ask ourselves. I think there are basically three. Number one, Kosovo in the middle of the Balkans, in the middle of Europe, is a tinder box. And this fire is not going to burn out inside Kosovo. It's going to implicate Albania ---
JIM LEHRER: We have a map up - shows where Kosovo is.
SAMUEL BERGER: Right.
JIM LEHRER: There with Albania, Greece-
SAMUEL BERGER: It's going to implicate Albania where most of the Kosovars have an ethnic allegiance. There are many Kosovars in Macedonia. So if you had a continued conflict, Macedonia could be implicated. Once Macedonia gets drawn into that, you automatically have a very, very delicate situation with Greece. We fought one war that started in the Balkans. So, number one, this is a conflict which if we can squelch early now, unlike Bosnia, which burned on for three years, I think we can prevent it from widening. I remember in the late days of the Bush administration being told this is really the spot that they were concerned about. That's number one. Number two, we want to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in the middle of Europe with hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring into all of these countries. These are new, emerging democracies in this area, spilling over to Bosnia and perhaps unraveling what's happening there on a positive side. So the refugee/humanitarian side of this is extremely important. And finally, there really is a question of NATO's credibility here. NATO has been the alliance, the transatlantic alliance which has kept us at peace for the last 50 years, hopefully for the next 50 years. NATO has an investment here in trying to use its strength to implement a peace if we can reach it. I think for all of those reasons I think this is of important interest to the United States.
JIM LEHRER: And if we don't do something about it, nobody else in the world will?
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, we're doing this with our European allies, but NATO is an alliance. We are the leader of the alliance. It is difficult for the alliance to operate without American leadership. And I think the leadership that secretary Albright has brought to these negotiations over the last two days, very much with her colleagues, with Minister Vedrine and Minister Cook from France and England, but clearly with Secretary Albright pushing the thing forward constantly, America - I think the world still looks to America for leadership. And I think we have -- we can't be everywhere, we can't do everything, but where our interests and our values are at stake, I think we to try to do our best.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Berger, thank you very much.
SAMUEL BERGER: Thank you, Jim.