THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I have just spoken
with NATO Secretary General Solana, who, as you know, has determined
that the Serb forces have begun their withdrawal from Kosovo, an essential
step toward meeting NATO's conditions and restoring peace.
NATO has suspended its air campaign against Serbia. An international
security force, including American troops, is preparing to enter Kosovo.
I will address the nation this evening, but I would like to make a few
We and our allies launched our campaign in the face of Serbia's brutal,
systematic effort to remove Kosovars, ethnic Albanians, from their land,
dead or alive. From the beginning, we had three clear objectives: the
withdrawal of Serb forces, the deployment of an international security
force with NATO at the core, the return of the Kosovars to their home
to live in security and self-government. Serbia now has accepted these
conditions and the process of implementing them is underway.
The Kosovars have been victims of terrible atrocities. Their only hope
was that the world would not turn away in the face of ethnic cleansing
and killing, that the world would take a stand. We did, for 78 days.
Because we did, the Kosovars will go home.
Our policy was designed to achieve our objectives in Kosovo and to do
so in a way that advanced other important interests: First, to prevent
the violence from spreading to other nations in Southeastern Europe
and undermining the progress they have made toward deeper democracy,
greater ethnic and religious tolerance and broader prosperity. They
felt the greatest strain, but they never wavered. And I thank them for
Second, to achieve our aims as an Alliance, 19 democratic nations, with
780 million people, working together in the first sustained military
operation in NATO's history. The Alliance did stay together. It is now
stronger and more united than ever. And I thank my fellow leaders in
the Alliance for their fidelity and fortitude.
Third, to act in a manner that would strengthen, not weaken, our vital
relations with a democratic Russia. Russia played an important role
in achieving this peace, and we hope that, as in Bosnia, it will join
us in securing the peace.
There are so many people to thank -- first, Secretary General Solana
and General Clark, who were steadfast and effective. Our NATO allies.
I have spoken already with Prime Minister Blair and have calls out to
many others. I hope to speak at least to President Chirac, Chancellor
Minister D'Alema, Prime Minister Chretien, Mr. Kok, Mr. Aznar, and
many others. They were all, all 19 held together so well.
I want to thank President Ahtisaari and Mr. Chernomyrdin for their
diplomatic mission which played a critical role in this. I want to thank
President Yeltsin for his strong instructions to his team to resolve
these matters so that we can go forward.
I want to thank our allies in Congress in both Houses and both parties
for believing in America's mission in Kosovo. I want to thank our team
very much -- those who are not here, the Vice President who played a
large role in putting together the Chernomyrdin-Ahtisaari team; Secretary
Albright, whose passionate commitment to this cause is well-known; and
Deputy Secretary Talbott, who was pivotal in the diplomatic efforts.
I want to thank Secretary Cohen and General Shelton who persevered with
great confidence and calmness amidst criticisms and the early rough-going
to achieve the victory that they have achieved.
And I want to say a special word of thanks to Mr. Berger, who has barely
slept for the last three months, and who has done a superb job. He and
Mr. Podesta and Mr. Steinberg, our entire national security team has
done a very, very good job.
And finally, let me say I am enormously proud of our men and women in
uniform, and those of our allies, who have performed with tremendous
skill and courage, striking at Serbia's military machine and aiding
the refugees. I am profoundly grateful for what they have done. I am
very grateful that the loss of life was limited to the tragedies in
the two training incidents and that we only lost two planes in the combat
And I am grateful to the American citizens, who felt enormous compassion
for the suffering of the people in Kosovo and understood the importance
of standing up to the war crimes involved in ethnic cleansing and killing,
and the kind of ethnic and religious bigotry and violence we have seen
against innocent civilians.
Now we are waiting for the United Nations to pass a resolution that
the G-8 nations have embraced. We expect the Security Council to adopt
We must be mindful that even though we now have a chance to replace
violence with peace, ethnic and religious hatred with a democratic future,
a bloody century in Europe with a Europe undivided, democratic and at
peace, there is still quite a lot to be done. First we have to make
sure that the Serbs keep their commitments. That means the forces must
rapidly and peacefully leave Kosovo under the agreed timetable, 11 days
NATO's air campaign is suspended; it is not formally terminated. And
Secretary General Solana retains the authority to resume strikes if
Serbia violates its commitments.
Second, we face challenges and risks in bringing home the refugees and
restoring stability. With determination and cooperation, an international
security force of roughly 50,000 troops, including 7,000 Americans,
can give the people of Kosovo the confidence to return, to lay down
their arms, to heal their wounds, to live in peace. But there are operational
difficulties with this, as well, which you will see over the next few
days as we come to grips with them.
Finally, we face the broader challenge of preventing future crises
by promoting democracy and prosperity in this region which has been
so troubled. With our allies and partners, we must intensify these efforts.
In the past four months we have seen some of the worst inhumanity in
our lifetime, but we've also seen the bravery of our troops, the resolve
of our democracy, the decency of our people, and the courage and determination
of the people of Kosovo. We now have a moment of hope, thanks to all
those qualities. And we have to finish the job and build the peace.
REPORTER: Mr. President, sir, is there anything you can tell the American
people as to how long the NATO peacekeepers will have to be in Kosovo,
including the American forces?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't think we should put a timetable on it. We will
define our objectives and proceed to implement them.
REPORTER: Can you see the NATO peacekeeping force leaving Kosovo with
Mr. Milosevic still in power?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would put it in a different way. What I would
like to see is all the nations of Southeastern Europe built up. I'd
like to see them coming closer together and then I'd like to see them
becoming more integrated with the economic and security structure of
Europe, so that we will see them growing and prospering the way Poland,
Hungary and the Czech Republic did after the fall of communism, for
example. And I don't see how Serbia can participate in that unless they
have a leadership that is committed to a multiethnic, multireligious
democracy and to genuine democracy and human rights.
REPORTER: Do you feel vindicated against the criticism that the air
war would not work, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think -- again, I would say, I think that are
people in uniform performed superbly and they performed risking their
lives. We regret the fact that there were any civilian casualties, but
our pilots risked their lives to minimize those casualties. And there
were far fewer here, for example, than there were in the Gulf War --
far, far fewer.
And I think it's a tribute to Secretary Cohen and to General Shelton
and the others who believed that, given these facts -- given these facts
-- and given the capacity of our forces, that this strategy could work.
We never took other options off the table, we had planned and thought
about them. But I think that our people in uniform, starting with our
Secretary of Defense, are the ones that have been vindicated by this.
And I'm grateful for what they have achieved.
But in terms of America, the United States should feel vindicated
when the people go home, and when they're safe, and when we can say
that we, as a nation, have played a role in reversing ethnic cleansing.
Because if we do that, after what we have done in Bosnia, and the work
we have been doing in Africa to set up a crisis response team to try
to prevent a Rwanda from ever occurring again, then we will be able
to see the world go into the 21st century with a more humane future
-- not able to stop all conflict, not able to stop all ethnic conflict,
but at least able to prevent this sort of thing.
REPORTER: Why do you think he gave in now, Mr. President? Apart from
the air campaign, was it also the indictment as a war criminal; was
he getting pressure from his own people, from his military?
THE PRESIDENT: They paid quite a high price for this; they were hurt
REPORTER: Mr. President, sir, it's going to cost a lot of money to
reconstruct Kosovo and also the neighboring countries are going to need
a lot of aid. How much is the United States willing to put up, and will
this be a European endeavor with help from the United States?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I said, I would expect that most of the money
would come from Europe because most of the cost of this campaign, the
air campaign, have been borne by the United States. I don't quarrel
with that; we had the capacity and we did what we should have done.
But I don't want us to get into a haggling situation, either. We should
do this because it's the right thing to do. And it will be -- let me
say this -- it will be far less expensive -- far, far less expensive
for us to make a decent contribution to the long-term development of
these people than it will be to wait around for something like this
to happen again and run the risks, all the risks we had to deal with
this time that it might spread and all of that.
So I hope that we will be forthright. I hope the international institutions
will do their part. And I think we need to focus on this because this
is the last big challenge.
Thank you very much