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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 20, 1994
                            PRESS BRIEFING
                           BY DEE DEE MYERS

The Briefing Room

8:24 P.M. EST

MS. MYERS: Good evening. President Clinton spoke with Secretary General Woerner from the residence about an hour ago, and the President has issued the following statement.

I have just been informed by NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner that NATO and the United Nations commanders have concluded that all known heavy weapons of the parties have been withdrawn from the exclusion zone around Sarajevo, or under the control of the United Nations, or soon should be. Therefore, they have concluded that no air strikes in Bosnia by NATO air forces are required at this time.

This week's events clearly have given the residents of Sarajevo a respite from the shelling and a measure of hope. I want to congratulate NATO and each of our NATO allies for the demonstration of resolve that produced these results. I want to commend the high level of cooperation that has been demonstrated between U.N. and NATO.

As I told President Yeltsin in a call earlier today, I want to congratulate the government of Russia for its contributions to this effort.

Finally, all Americans join in praising the courage and skill of our service personnel and those of our NATO allies. They have been the muscle in NATO's ultimatum.

Despite the significant events of the day, we must remain vigilant. All parties should be aware that the ultimatum stands. The deadline has not been extended. Any heavy weapons in the exclusion zone not under U.N. control are and will remain subject to air strikes. NATO's decision applies to any heavy weapons attacks on Sarajevo from within or beyond the zone.

NATO and the United Nations will continue to monitor compliance extremely carefully. The NATO decision and its results provide new potential for progress toward an end to the tragic conflict in Bosnia. In the coming days, American diplomats will be working with the parties to the conflict and our allies and partners to transform this potential into reality.

There will be a background briefing in a few minutes, but I'll take a couple of questions in the meantime.

Q How many heavy Serbian gun positions are not yet under U.N. control, and when do you expect they will be under U.N. control?

MS. MYERS: Well, the vast majority of heavy weapons have either been removed from the zone or placed under U.N. control. Only a handful of areas remain outside of the U.N. control, and we

expect very soon that most of those will be -- or all of those will be within U.N. control. That's something that we'll have to monitor continually; it's something that we're getting reports on from the ground.

Q The Serbs have not complied with the U.N. ultimatum, have they?

MS. MYERS: Well, as the President's statement points out, all of the heavy weapons have either been removed, put under U.N. control, or will soon be under U.N. control. So at this time we don't see any need for air strikes.

Q When you say "soon be" that means they have not complied, have they?

MS. MYERS: We haven't been able to confirm compliance at this point. That's something, again, that we're going to continue to monitor as events proceed.

Q When you say soon, is it a question of hours or days, when you say they will be very soon under the U.N.'s control?

MS. MYERS: Soon. I'm not going to put a time line on it. But again, it's a very small, just a handful of weapons that are not yet under control and we do expect those to be under control soon. There's been tremendous progress today. Clearly, there's been a high level of weapons, a high number of weapons turned over; most of those within the cantonment areas or outside of the exclusion zone. And again, there's been a lot of heavy weather there, a lot of cloud cover. So it's difficult to assess exactly what the situation is on the ground, but we're quite confident that the vast majority of weapons are now within the NATO ultimatum.

Q What do you mean when you say you can't confirm compliance? You can confirm what's already been done.

MS. MYERS: Right, with the exception of those handful of areas where we don't believe that the weapons are under NATO control -- I mean UNPROFOR control at this time. But again, we expect that to happen soon.

Q Did the President know all this, that there would be no air strikes before 7:00 p.m.?

MS. MYERS: Well, he's been following events very closely today, and he spoke, as you know, to a number of people including the Secretary General of NATO, Manfred Woerner, twice -- most recently, at about 7:30 p.m. And at that time, Secretary General Woerner assured him that, again as the President's statement says, that the weapons were either removed or under UNPROFOR control, or would soon be under UNPROFOR control. So it's been a good day.

Q can be construed as an extension of the deadline technically?

MS. MYERS: Absolutely not. The deadline is firm and the deadline remains in place. And I think that's an important point. This is something that we'll continue to monitor. We will be vigilant. Any weapons that are in the exclusion zone that are outside of UNPROFOR control that are used to shell the city from within or outside the exclusion zone will be subject to air strikes.

Q Since this worked out as you had hoped, how long might it take the White House, NATO or others to propose a similar solution in Tuzla, Srebrenica and other enclaves where Serb guns have shelled civilians?

MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, U.N.-NATO action already applies to Tuzla and Srebrenica. There's already -- air strikes have already been authorized there to open the airport at Tuzla or to assure the rotation of troops at Srebrenica. I think the focus now is on the diplomatic effort -- to get the diplomatic process reinvigorated.

As you know, we've been pursuing that quite vigorously over the past few weeks. Ambassador Redman's been in Europe meeting with leaders in European capitals, leaders of different countries and leaders to the parties to the conflict. I think, as Tony mentioned earlier, there will be a meeting in Bonn on Tuesday that will include Britain, France, the U.S., Germany, Russia, and the troika of the EU. And I believe Prime Minister Silajdzic will be in Washington tomorrow meeting with Secretary of State Christopher, National Security Advisor Lake, and other administration officials in our effort to invigorate the process.

Q Who does the White House hold responsible for the fact that some of these weapons remain out of U.N. control? Is it because the Serbs have been unwilling to turn them over, or because the U.N. has been unable to take them?

MS. MYERS: I think it's a little difficult for us to determine exactly what's happened at each site on the ground. As you know, there's been a lot of heavy weather there over the past few days. There's been cloud cover; there's been snow. So at this point, there's a few that remain outside of UNPROFOR control, but we do expect that by tomorrow we'll have better information and we expect that those sites will be under UNPROFOR control.

Q Are the Russian troops going to have any role in controlling Serbian weapons?

MS. MYERS: The Russian troops are under UNPROFOR command, so General Rose and others on the ground will determine exactly how the Russian troops are used. That's something that will be worked out between them.

Q Why do you believe the Serbs agreed to comply with the NATO ultimatum?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think quite clearly it was the resolve demonstrated by the allies over the course of the last 10 days. I think we made it clear again and again that a deadline is a deadline, that the ultimatum stood, and that any weapons that were outside of the exclusion zone -- that were in the exclusion zone outside of UNPROFOR control at the end of the 10-day period will be subject to air strikes.

I think certainly the efforts of the Russians helped, the efforts of the allies in this helped. But ultimately, it was the resolve that the allies showed in issuing the ultimatum.

I'll take one more question, and then we'll end it.

Q Was there any formal contact with the Serbian leadership in all of this? I mean, what did they do -- they just came and dropped their guns and then departed, the Serbs? I mean, was there any kind of controlled --

MS. MYERS: There has been a lot of contact on the ground between the UNPROFOr commanders and between the leaders of the various parties there; certainly a lot of dialogue on the ground. I think you've seen various Serbian officials out on television over the course of the last several days.

Q In contact with the U.N. or NATO or --

MS. MYERS: Certainly, he's been in contact at many levels ongoing throughout this, but I think with regards specifically to the weapons, that's happened primarily on the ground.

Thank you.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END8:31 P.M. EST