THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
The Briefing Room
10:04 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I welcome the agreement by the Bosnian Serbs to comply with a condition set by NATO for -- and the United Nations -- for ending the NATO air strikes.
American pilots and crews and their NATO colleagues have been carrying out those strikes to prevent further slaughter of innocent civilians in the Sarajevo area and in the other safe areas of Bosnia. Now, the Bosnian Serbs have stated that they will end all offensive operations within the Sarajevo exclusion zone, withdraw their heavy weapons from the zone within six days and allow road and air access to Sarajevo within 24 hours. NATO and the U.N., therefore, have suspended air operations temporarily, and will carefully monitor the Serb compliance with these commitments.
That suspension is appropriate. But let me emphasize, if the Bosnian Serbs do not comply with their commitments the air strikes will resume.
Today's development are a direct result of NATO's steadfastness in protecting the safe areas, and the close cooperation between the U.N. and NATO. They also reflect the intense diplomatic efforts by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke and the U.S. negotiating team, as well as those of our European and Russian partners.
Now the Bosnian Serbs must carry out their commitments and then turn their energies toward a political settlement that will end this terrible conflict for good. They should have no doubt that NATO will resume the air strikes if they fail to keep their commitments, if they strike again at Sarajevo or the other safe areas.
Today's actions, however, following last week's successful meeting in Geneva of the Foreign Ministers of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, are important steps along the path to peace in Bosnia. A lot of work remains to be done, but we are absolutely determined to press forward to reach a settlement to this conflict -- not on the battlefield, but at the negotiating table. We can and we must end Bosnia's long nightmare.
Q Mr. President, what do you think is the possibility of transforming this into a permanent peace in Bosnia?
THE PRESIDENT: I think there's a good possibility if the parties themselves wish to do it. And Ambassador Holbrooke and his team are working hard. We're getting good support from Europe and from Russia. I think we have a chance.
Q Since you last spoke in so formal a setting, even so formal a setting as this, a lot has happened, including the biggest military operation in NATO's history -- something that you certainly urged -- intense activity by your diplomats. And you have seemed almost shy about coming out and talking about it. Is that just an abundance of caution, or why is that, sir? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Not an abundance of caution, but what I have wanted to do, first of all, is let our actions speak for themselves. I thought it was important to have our actions speak for themselves.
I also think it is important that even though the United States has provided a great deal of the energy and leadership in this effort, in this, the first difficult security crisis in Europe after the Cold War, I think it is important that the NATO forces and the United Nations be seen to be united and working together, and we are. And so that explains how we have tried to handle this publicly.
Q In talking with Mr. Mladic and Mr. Karadzic and in really getting them to sign an agreement, is there a contradiction because they are convicted war criminals or accused war criminals --
THE PRESIDENT: Accused.
Q -- accused war criminals? And do you think they can now enter sort of the world of nations just like any other leader?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, those decisions will all have to be made down the line by the community of nations. The most important thing is that the work continue now to make a comprehensive peace.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 10:08 A.M. EDT