|SEC. ALBRIGHT AND ROBIN COOK|
April 22, 1999
As NATO leaders gather in Washington to commemorate its 50th anniversary and debate the operation in Yugoslavia, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright discuss the summit and the strikes in Yugoslavia.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good morning. Let me welcome you here. Foreign Secretary Cook and I have had, already, a very useful meeting. The Foreign Secretary is here, of course, for the NATO summit, which begins tomorrow and marks the biggest invasion of Washington since what we diplomats refer to as the "unpleasantness of 1812."
Fifty years ago, another distinguished British Foreign Minister, Ernest Bevin, came to Washington. He said, in signing the NATO treaty, that "at last, democracy is no longer a series of isolated units; it's a coherent organism." The intervening years proved the wisdom of those words, as NATO provided the shield behind which a generation of our citizens grew up and grew old in peace.
Today, too, NATO stands united. And nowhere is that unity stronger than in the enduring friendship between the United States and the United Kingdom. This morning, we have reviewed plans for the NATO summit; we have discussed the latest developments in Kosovo. NATO's position is rock-solid: we will persist until the conflict in Kosovo can be ended on the terms we have set. We will help care for the people of Kosovo made refugees by Milosevic's depredations and we will help them return and rebuild.
Let me just say how disgusted I was to hear Milosevic repeat in an interview broadcast last night his big lie; that refugees from Kosovo are fleeing NATO's bombs, not Belgrade's ethnic cleansing. That will certainly be news to the refugees, who are giving eyewitness accounts of the atrocities perpetrated at Milosevic's order. Milosevic can deny the truth, but he cannot change it. The truth is that his forces are responsible for the worst crimes committed in Europe in more than half a century. In that connection, we will do all that we can to share information with the War Crimes Tribunal and to see that those who commit atrocities are held accountable. We're considering new economic measures designed to deny Belgrade the ability to wage war on its own people, such as an embargo on oil products. We will do our part in a broader initiative to bring the Balkans fully into the mainstream of a Europe whole and free.
The United States, Britain and others have put forward very good proposals. We must now move forward on a coordinated effort to consolidate democracy, promote economic growth and support those who strive for peace across Southeast Europe. With respect to the question of ground forces -- a subject of much speculation amongst all of you -- let me tell you where we are. We are confident that a sustained and relentless air campaign can achieve our objectives, and I think that most recently the targets of the Socialist Party headquarters and command and control centers are evidence of the continued damage that our air campaign is doing. We do not favor the deployment of ground forces into a hostile environment in Kosovo. We do, however, believe it is prudent to update our plans and assessments and to support Secretary General Solana's efforts to do so.
Events in Kosovo have shown clearly why we need a strong and adapted NATO with new members and new capabilities, ready to take on new missions. The Foreign Secretary and I discussed the remaining summit issues, and I welcomed Prime Minister Blair's ideas on strengthening the European pillar of our alliance to help make Europe more able to act effectively while maintaining its strong links to NATO. NATO's fundamental purpose -- safeguarding the ideals, interests and territory of its members -- is unchanging. At its foundation are enduring ties of trust and friendship between America and its allies. No bond is stronger than the one we share with the United Kingdom, and none is more certain to endure for another 50 years and beyond. And now, my good friend, the Foreign Secretary.
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: Thank you, Madeleine. I'll just gloss over 1812 and we can put that one behind us. But I do want to go back 50 years, and I welcome Madeleine's reference to Ernest Bevin, the distinguished previous Labor Foreign Secretary.
Fifty years ago, NATO was born out of the defeat of fascism in Europe. This weekend we'll be commemorating those 50 years of security which we have brought to Europe and to the free world. But just as we were born out of the defeat of fascism, NATO cannot tolerate the rebirth of fascism within Europe. And that is what we are witnessing at the present time. In 1945 when we looked at the Europe that we inherited, it was a Europe scarred by genocide, by mass deportation of peoples, by ethnic confrontation and ethnic aggression. The tragedy is that we witness all of those again in Kosovo today.
Over the past three weeks, I have met a number of Kosovar Albanians in London. They all bring the same tales of the savagery from Kosovo. Earlier this week, I met one man who was one of the last to leave Pristina. He described the methodical way in which that town was emptied by Milosevic's thugs -- district by district; time after time families being told the same thing, that they have five minutes to get out of the house. If they looked wealthy, they were also told that if you have 5,000 DM, we will allow you to take your father with you; how much value do you put on your mother, that you would take your mother with you. We cannot tolerate the return of the doctrine of ethnic superiority to Europe; nor can we tolerate the aggression that's been practiced by President Milosevic's forces without conveying a clear signal of encouragement to dictators around the world. That is why it is so important that we make a stand in Kosovo. I agree absolutely with the point that has already been made by Madeleine Albright that President Milosevic lies when he says that the Kosovar Albanians have fled NATO's bombing.
Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of refugees have come out of Kosovo over the past month. Not one has said that they were fleeing from NATO bombs. All have said that they are fleeing from President Milosevic's special police and from his paramilitary thugs. That is why we have given an undertaking that we will pass all our information to the War Crimes Tribunal, including our own intelligence, in order that they can come to a judgment as to who is guilty of those war crimes and bring to justice before the International Tribunal those who have been guilty of the atrocities within Kosovo. I want to make, also though, a message not of shock and revulsion alone, but of determination that we are going to reverse the atrocities and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.
Our air campaign is being effective; it is cutting off the communications of the Yugoslav Army; it is making them run low on fuel; it has denied them air cover, so that much of the time they stay in hiding rather than venture out into the open. I am in total agreement with the point that has already been made by Madeleine Albright that we are not going to commit ground forces in a hostile environment; nor do we need to. Time is our greatest ally. As President Milosevic gets weaker with the passage of time, so too, does the strength of our case for returning the Kosovars under international protection. This weekend, NATO will demonstrate its resolve to complete the job to which we have set our hand. The best basis for that resolve is the unity of the Alliance. I want to end with a particular word of appreciation for the contribution that has been made by Madeleine Albright to building that unity and strengthening that resolve. I think we've spoken almost daily for four weeks now, Madeleine, and I know also that Madeleine speaks equally frequently to my colleagues in France and Germany and Italy, and has built up a great respect throughout Europe as a person who has provided leadership among the foreign ministers to ensure that unity in the Alliance and the resolve to complete the task. Nobody worked harder than Madeleine at Rambouillet to try and achieve peace, and nobody should forget that President Milosevic had every opportunity to resolve this issue through dialogue.
It was his refusal to negotiate in good faith that produced the conflict. And now that we are in that conflict, it is vital that for the sake of the refugees -- and for the sake of the Alliance -- we make sure we secure our objective of enabling the refugees to return, of forcing President Milosevic to reverse the ethnic cleansing, and securing the entry of an international military presence which will help us to rebuild Kosovo and create a free and democratic Kosovo.
REPORTER: You both made rather straightforward statements about ground troops, appearing to rule them out. But the speculation, as the Secretary described it, is based on statements by the British and French, and also based on the fact you haven't won the war and it's taking a long time to deliver that knock-out punch and to get at the Serb troops who are torturing those people you talk about. So is there something between the lines here that we miss when the Secretary refers to plans being looked at again this weekend? Is there some nuance here about ground troops? Could everybody have interpreted French and British statements incorrectly, as if the use of ground troops is on the table? The US has said no; that's great. But following the French and British positions has been a little difficult. Could you give us some help?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just make one comment and then let Robin respond. I think it is in appropriate to rule anything out, and we have not done so.
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: I would absolutely agree with that. First of all, we're both quite clear at some point ground troops will be required in Kosovo; indeed, we agreed to that at Rambouillet even before the commencement of the present military conflict. We have always said that ground troops would be necessary in Kosovo to guarantee security and a cease-fire in Kosovo. I have to say, after the last four weeks, it will be necessary to give the refugees the confidence to return to have that international military presence. We are also absolutely clear that we are not sending in troops to fight their way in in a ground force invasion. That has never been on. Therefore, what will happen in the future and the endgame -- to make sure when the time is right, when it's appropriate, when it is safe to commit those ground troops to guarantee a cease-fire in Kosovo -- that will be a NATO decision. It will be one that will be taken jointly. And there is no difference between us in the need to make sure we do some preparation so we are ready when that moment comes.
REPORTER: Are you now not using -- or why are you not using the term "permissive environment?" You've used the word "hostile" -- that you wouldn't want to send ground troops into a hostile environment. But what about the permissive environment; is that still on the table, as it were, or can you sort of live with a permissive-minus, as it were?
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: I'm not sure what a permissive-minus would be. First of all, nobody goes in in a hostile environment. Secondly, no problem if we get agreement from Belgrade. Sure, there may be circumstances in which Belgrade has not signed a formal treaty in which it may be appropriate to go in. But what is a permissive environment and what is an appropriate time to go in is a judgment that we can only make when that time comes. It's a judgment we'll make together; it's a judgment we'll make with the military on board.
REPORTER: But do you need a formal agreement from Belgrade to allow troops in, or will you consider sending troops in in a non-permissive environment?
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: I'm not sure that we would necessarily make it an absolute condition that there has to be a formal treaty signing with a ceremony and photographs. But at what point is appropriate to go in is a matter we have to judge with care and with very clear regard to military advice.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, you had said earlier -- I believe it was before Parliament -- that it is possible to conceive of circumstances in which it may be feasible to commit ground troops. Could you elaborate on that and explain what you meant by that?
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: I think I've been elaborating about that since we started questions. I'm not sure that there is that much fresh that I have to add to what I said. But let me just repeat for the ones that doubt: no ground troops that have to fight their way in; yes ground troops to guarantee a cease-fire; when it would be appropriate to commit those ground troops will depend on a judgment as to what the circumstances are in Kosovo and how near we are to that cease-fire.
REPORTER: How, then, is NATO going to look at revising its policy on ground troops if there's still no way that it's going to agree to send in ground troops that have to fight to get into Kosovo? How does this revision occur? What gets revised?
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: I don't think anybody's proposing we revise the policy. I mean, the policy that I have spoken to is one that we jointly share and that our allies are on board for. Obviously, we want the military to be ready for contingencies and to make sure that they're ready for all options. But that doesn't mean to say the policy is changing.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think, first of all, as you all know, there were assessments made last fall about the situation on the ground. We believe that it is prudent for those military planners and assessors at NATO to take as a statement of fact to recognize the current situation and provide for NATO an update in their assessment and plans. That's what's happening.
REPORTER: Madame Secretary, you spoke about considering new economic measures, and you did mention the oil embargo as one of them. Are there any other economic measures that are under consideration?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, let me say that we are particularly focusing on oil because that is the way that forces move around. As you know, some of the targets have been specifically against oil refineries. Therefore, we have agreed, in these many, many conversations, that basically it didn't make a lot of sense for us to be bombing refineries and at the same time not doing enough to prevent the access of oil by sea. So the EU decided on an oil embargo. We believe that additional steps can be taken whereby each country in interpreting its laws can, in fact, search and visit the vessels that are on the Adriatic, which in no way would interfere with neutral shipping. I think we are looking at a variety of other ways, but I'm not prepared to discuss any more details.
REPORTER: Madame Secretary, regarding the 20,000 Kosovar refugees that the US has agreed to take in, first, can you tell us how it will be decided who will come to the US? When will they come? And also, why the change of heart -- not going to Guantanamo Bay?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, let me say that I think we are looking to families and those who have families that there can be reuniting and a sense that many of the European countries that are undertaking this kind of a reception of the Albanians do not have the same kind of status that we do in terms of temporary. We wanted to be on the same footing to show the generosity of spirit of the American people, as the British are showing.
REPORTER: Madame Secretary, on the European pillar, ten days ago or so I read your Brookings Institution speech as not favoring the European pillar. You were saying that it would tend to create a split within NATO. Has there been an evolution of your position on that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think you misread my speech. We have always favored a European pillar, we just don't want it to be separate from NATO. We have argued for the fact that there should be no de-coupling, no duplication and no discrimination. But we do believe that there is great value in having a European pillar, but not outside of NATO.
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: May I just add briefly to that? Britain would not be proposing the initiatives being done on European security if we felt that was in any way a threat to our alliance with the United States. We believe that if Europe is better able to make its security contributions to the Alliance -- and perhaps also manage some crisis management of its own in Europe, where it is appropriate to do so -- that is a strength for the Alliance; it is not weakening the Alliance. The last few weeks have reminded our people how very much we need that alliance with the United States.
REPORTER: Madame Secretary, speaking of revising plans, is there any revision of plans being looked at in terms of air drops of humanitarian supplies to the internally displaced inside Kosovo?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Again let me say -- and we have had this discussion -- we are very concerned about what is happening to the people inside Kosovo, concerned about their physical condition as well as where they're living and whether they have enough to eat and medicines. We are looking at a variety of ways to get supplies to them. As we talk about the potential ways, we do talk about air drops. But I think that we have been told by the experts that is not a slam dunk, as we would say -- that it is difficult --
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: Pardon?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It is an American term, basketball.
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: Oh, I see.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Just to show that I know about sports terms. But basically one can't be sure that it will accomplish the goals and that the airplanes can actually deliver to the places that are necessary.
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: Can I just add to that? I think it's a great shame that President Milosevic did not use his interview yesterday to come clean on what is the state of those refugees in Kosovo, to tell us about the conditions, to confirm whether or not it is true they are short of food and water and have been living in the open -- in some cases, for three or four weeks. We are reviewing all possible ways in which we can help them, but it is a very difficult task to do so from outside Kosovo. But let's not lose sight of whose responsibility their fate is. President Milosevic keeps claiming that they are his citizens and that Kosovo is his territory. Very well; they are his responsibility. He will be held to account for what happens to those refugees.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I can't resist reading one paragraph from this incredible interview. This is Milosevic's words. "Everybody's running away because of bombing -- Serbs, Turks, Gypsies, Muslims; of course, Albanians, their number is biggest. Everybody's running. Deers are running, birds are running, everybody's running away because of bombing. Bees are running; everybody's running away. And who can ask to understand a civilian population cannot play the role of hero, staying in their places when bombs are going down. That's not possible. And you know that before the 24th of March, when they started damn bombing, they started their dirty aggression against this country, there was no one single refugee."
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: There were 400,000 already before it began.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes. Thank you.
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: Thank you.