|NEWSMAKER: SAMUEL BERGER|
October 5, 2000
Opposition forces in Yugoslavia took over the parliament building and state-run media in an effort to oust President Slobodan Milosevic. After a background report, Samuel Berger, national security adviser to President Clinton, discusses the developments and the next steps in Yugoslavia.
MARGARET WARNER: The latest pictures from Belgrade show these crowds celebrating in the streets. Are they being premature, or is this the end of Milosevic, do you think?
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I think they're quite determined. The Serbian people have expressed their will now, Margaret, first, at the ballot box last Sunday when they voted for Kostunica and now -- because that vote has been subverted -- in the streets. I think you see the institutions of government moving towards the Serbian people, and I think it's going to be very hard to put that genie back in the bottle, but I don't think it's over yet.
MARGARET WARNER: What is the latest information you have about Milosevic, his whereabouts and his situation?
SAMUEL BERGER: We have no reason to believe he's not still in Serbia, in and around Belgrade.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you know his whereabouts?
SAMUEL BERGER: My best, our best information is that he's in Belgrade.
MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, there are reports that, for instance, the police are not around his family compound.
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I don't want to get into specific details, but we certainly have no information that he's not in Serbia, in Belgrade.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And so these reports about three military aircraft taking off from a military airfield near Belgrade, do you know anything about that? Do you have reason to believe Milosevic and his wife aren't on that flight; do you know who were on that flight?
SAMUEL BERGER: No reason to believe that he is on the flight. I would say that there have been a number of reports over the last week of Milosevic on a lot of planes going to a lot of places, and until we have clear confirmation that he's left, I think we have to assume he's still there.
But what's happening here is the power is slipping away from him. He's pulling levers, and nothing is moving. The army has made it clear that they will not fire upon the Serb people; the police have made that clear. We now have a state news agency declaring Kostunica the winner. We have the state television going dark and not being willing to broadcast propaganda, so something quite dramatic and extraordinary is happening in Serbia, but, again, I don't know that the final chapter has yet been written.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, let's talk a little bit more about the army and police because, as you said, again, the television pictures showed them mostly not intervening. But do you have information that in fact they have... they are now not loyal to him?
SAMUEL BERGER: I think Mr. Milosevic has every reason to believe that he cannot count on the military and the police to turn against the Serb people.
MARGARET WARNER: What about the so-called special police that have always been his kind of special guard?
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, this is the reason why I think some note of caution is appropriate, even in spite of these extraordinary, remarkable pictures of the people surging into the streets. Does he have the capacity to order some number of thugs or special police to take violent action? That certainly is possible. I think the real question now is whether change takes place here peacefully or whether or not there is bloodshed. And I think the way for change to take place peacefully is for Milosevic now to recognize the clear will of the Serb people, demonstrated so dramatically today.
MARGARET WARNER: Any progress on the efforts-- and I know President Clinton's been involved in these, and all of you have-- to get the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to give Milosevic a push by coming out and saying something, either publicly or doing it privately?
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I think it is very important. Publicly, it would be very helpful at this stage for the Russians to recognize the will of the Serb people, which I think is unmistakable, and indicate that Kostunica has [won] and Milosevic should go. I think that to rely now on the process, the legal process, is hard to accept when the legal process, of course, is distorted and perverted. And I think it would be very welcome if they clearly and unequivocally sided now with the Serb people.
MARGARET WARNER: But he... Putin just made a statement, apparently, an hour or so ago, and he said neither of those things. He didn't recognize Kostunica as the winner of the election, he didn't call on Milosevic to go. One, how do you interpret that; two, do you have any information that he's saying anything privately to Milosevic or his people that's otherwise?
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I hope there are private communications that may be more clear and forceful. I think the Russians have, in a sense, tried to have this both ways, but I don't think that's possible anymore. I think not only are the election results unmistakable, and the evidence of how the people of Serbia voted is documented, it's clear, it's not just conjecture. But now you see people who have suffered for ten years under Milosevic, suffered terribly -- four wars that he's lost, and they've paid the price -- coming into the streets, angry, hopeful and determined. And I think that it would be very important for the Russians to side with the people of Serbia.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. The British prime minister, Tony Blair, said today it's time for Milosevic to go. That's almost become a refrain. But where does he go, given that he is an indicted war criminal?
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I think that's not for us to determine. We... we continue to believe that he ought to be accountable for what he's done over the last ten years, but first things first. And the first and most important urgent task is for him to step down and leave so this transition can take place peacefully. But I don't think it is for the United States to grant him absolution or be his travel agent.
MARGARET WARNER: Would the U.S., however, punish... let's say there is a country willing to give him safe haven. Would that country... in return for him leaving peacefully, protect him from prosecution, would the U.S. punish that country?
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I'm not going to speculate into the future. Ultimately, I believe Mr. Milosevic should be accountable for the untold, unspeakable crimes that have been committed over the last ten years. But I think what we need to focus on now is encouraging him and pressuring him to avoid a bloody scene in Belgrade and a bloody situation in the former Yugoslavia and step down. And we will then deal with accountability after that.
|Western military intervention|
MARGARET WARNER: All right, two final quick questions. President Clinton said today the U.S. would not intervene militarily. I just want to make sure we understand, under no circumstances, even if Milosevic turned some forces against these people in the streets?
SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I don't think this is a situation where American military force is appropriate, as the president said. You know, let's remember that the people of Serbia were hurt fairly hard by the bombing. I think obviously, it was the right thing to do and it resulted in a million people being able to come back to Kosovo and Milosevic stepping down. But there certainly... if there's one thing that will rally the Serb people back to Milosevic, it is the use of western military power.
I think this situation is much more analogous to the situation in the Philippines after Marcos stole the election there or the situation that we saw quite repeatedly in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We have to stand with the opposition, we have to support them in every way we can. But the future is now in the hands of the Serb people. The fatalism that has been sometimes the curse of the Serbian people really went away today. Those people in the streets are saying, "We're taking our fate in our own hands. We're going to decide our destiny, not Milosevic."
MARGARET WARNER: Warner: All right, well, thank you, Mr. Berger. Thanks for being with us.
SAMUEL BERGER: Thank you, Margaret.