THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS FOR NSC SANDY VERSHBOW,
The Briefing Room
11:02 A.M. EDT
MR. VERSHBOW: I'm Sandy Vershbow, Senior Director for European Affairs for the NSC. I'm ready to take your questions.
Q What about NATO -- what role, if any, NATO had --
Q -- U.S.troops, NATO enforcement?
MR. VERSHBOW: No, this is not the stage at which NATO'S implementation force would be introduced. The parties themselves agree that they will cooperate with cease-fire monitoring activities by UNPROFOR and report any violations to UNPROFOR authorities. But NATO will go in when there's an actual peace settlement and not until then.
Q There have been other cease-fires. What makes this one any different? And what is the increased likelihood that this one will hold?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, as the President said, we have to see what the parties do and not just what they say. And, indeed, many cease-fires have come and gone -- some quickly; some have lasted for many months. This one is supposed to last for 60 days or until there is a peace settlement. And our view is that the parties have reached the point where they see a negotiated solution in sight and they are now prepared to stop fighting for the result and try to get it at the bargaining table.
Q Will there be any practical effect in reporting violations of the cease-fire to UNPROFOR? What are they going to do?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, UNPROFOR continues to patrol various areas of Bosnia, but, ultimately, it's up to the parties to comply with this commitment, or not. We hope they will. This agreement was signed on the Serb side by Karadzic, Krajianik and Mladic and witnessed by Milosevic; and on the Bosnian side, President Izetbegovic signed both for the Republic of Bosnia and for the Federation. So we hope that these high-level signatures will mean something.
Q When and where was it signed?
MR. VERSHBOW: Okay, well, as you know, Holbrooke and his team have been shuttling around the -- based on positive result of the meeting yesterday in Sarajevo with President Izetbegovic and the Bosnian government, he went to Belgrade and into the middle of the night hammered out this text. Milosevic obtained the signatures I just mentioned, although Holbrooke did not meet directly with the Bosnian Serbs. Then he came back to Sarajevo this morning, mid-day Sarajevo time, to ensure that the Bosnian government was on board with every last letter in the agreement. And with that, we make this announcement.
Q The Bosnians haven't signed yet? Oh, they have.
MR. VERSHBOW: No, President Izetbegovic signed it a few hours ago.
Q What about Tudjman and Croatia?
MR. VERSHBOW: The agreement is among the Bosnian parties. Izetbegovic signed both for the Republic of Bosnia and for the Federation, which encompasses the Bosnian Croats. So this is not something that the government of Croatia is a direct party to.
Q What are the conditions to be met?
Q Are you worried about that?
Q What are the conditions to be met before a cease-fire?
MR. VERSHBOW: The conditions? The conditions are that -- the cease-fire will become effective at 0001 hours on October 10th, provided that at that time full gas and electrical utility service shall have been restored in the city of Sarajevo. Otherwise, the cease-fire will become effective at 0001 hours on the day following such restoration. This was an important issue for the Bosnian government, that continuing problems facing the civilian population of Sarajevo be solved, particularly the provision of utility service.
I should add that another aspect of this agreement which is very important is that there's a commitment to provide free passage and unimpeded road access from Sarajevo to Gorazde, which will hopefully end the humanitarian cut-off of that safe area.
Q How about military action by NATO until October 10th?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, NATO's continuing role in the air will be maintained. We hope that if the cease-fire is complied with, there won't be any need for close air support to UNPROFOR or for air strikes in response to artillery or other attacks.
Q I take it that's local time, is that local time -- all these times, or is this GMT, or what?
MR. VERSHBOW: My understanding is that it's local time.
Q What happens at the end of 60 days if there's not a peace treaty? Sixty days seems like an awful tight time frame for these sides to reach peace --
MR. VERSHBOW: First of all, given the progress that we have made so far, in a rather short period of time, we remain hopeful that we can wrap up a peace agreement well within that time. If it were to go beyond, I think the Bosnian government has made clear many times when cease-fires have been negotiated that they will reserve the right to return to the military option.
Q Sandy, where will the proximity talks take place and when do the proximity talks lead to the peace conference in Paris?
MR. VERSHBOW: First of all, let me do that rare thing which is to correct something the President said. It is not agreed that they will be in Washington. In fact, our concept is that they will be at some secluded location outside of Washington. But the exact venue --
Q In the U.S.?
MR. VERSHBOW: In the U.S. -- but the exact venue has not been decided. The idea is to get the parties together at one locale out of the public eye where our team can then shuttle between the delegations in a more efficient fashion than they have been able to do by having to fly.
Q They won't be in same room?
Q That's what proximity talks means?
MR. VERSHBOW: Yes, proximity talks, that's the buzzword for this notion of shuttling but within one site.
Let me finish the answer on Paris -- on the rest of the process. We see this phase of proximity talks evolving towards a multilateral face-to-face negotiation among the parties. And that would be the next stage which would take place in Paris. And that's what we call an international peace conference. That's not necessarily the final stage; there may need to be a series of meetings before we have a full, comprehensive peace agreement for signature at a summit level meeting.
Q So there's no timetable that gets you to Paris?
MR. VERSHBOW: No, no timetable.
Q Are you still promoting the formula 51-49?
MR. VERSHBOW: Yes. The parties themselves signed on to that principle in Geneva on September 8th and it was reaffirmed when they added additional agreed basic principles in New York. And that remains the basis for negotiation on the map.
Q On the location of the troops -- the U.N. says Croat soldiers have gone back into Bosnia. Is that a problem and are there restrictions on the placement of any of the troops prior to the talks, the proximity talks -- or the cease-fire?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, let me read you from the text: The parties commit to ensure that all the military commanders will issue and compel compliance with clear orders that preclude all offensive operations, patrol and reconnaissance activities that are forward of friendly positions, all offensive weapons firings including sniper fire, the laying of additional mines and the creation of additional barriers or obstacles.
This does not, therefore, require them to withdraw from existing positions, but it is meant to end all offensive action and lead to a stabilized situation on the ground.
Q The Croatian Army's movement into Bosnia today does not cause a problem?
MR. VERSHBOW: Not if they also cease operations. As I said earlier, President Tudjman and the Croatian government are not directly party to this. We don't believe there's any problem with their support of this cease-fire. And indeed, Holbrooke has met with Tudjman in recent days, and is meeting with him right now. And I think that is not an issue.
Q Can you please finish on the conditions? You listed two, sir. Are there others?
MR. VERSHBOW: No, those are the two conditions spelled out in the agreement.
Q Can you explain the gas and electric cut-off? Does that mean if the gas and electricity is cut off again, that's a violation of the cease-fire? Since the Serbs control that, does that mean it has to stay off?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, the agreement does not spell out what happens if they comply with those conditions and then they cease to comply. I mean, it's understood that this is meant to be an enduring agreement. And I think, obviously, any breakdown on one side would jeopardize the cease-fire.
Q Including gas and electric -- that's just like sniper fire.
MR. VERSHBOW: That's very important to the Bosnian government and to us in terms of restoring decent conditions to the people of Sarajevo.
Q Is Holbrooke trying to get him to sign on to this; is that why he's meeting with him?
MR. VERSHBOW: No, this agreement does not require the formal signing by the Croatians. It's an agreement among the parties to the conflict inside Bosnia.
Q Whether it's requires or not, would you like him to sign it?
MR. VERSHBOW: No, I don't think we feel it is necessary. We understand we have his support for this.
Q Sandy, will the proximity talks be in the Washington, D.C. area, at a place like Camp David?
MR. VERSHBOW: It may or may not be in the Washington, D.C., area. It could be further removed from Washington, in order to keep one step ahead of the distinguished press corps.
Q Is Camp David an option that you're considering?
MR. VERSHBOW: Camp David is probably not high on the list of options. But that kind of environment in which we can get the parties in a quiet, secluded setting, and bear down on achieving the additional compromises needed is what we have in mind.
Q What do you think was the key factor in bringing this about? Was it the final -- the bombing by NATO?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, I think a combination of factors. First of all, the progress that we have made on a negotiated solution, I think, has begun to convince the parties that they can get a fair result at the bargaining table and there's no point in spilling more blood. At the same time, the fact that the battle lines in Western Bosnia where the Bosnian and Croats made considerable advances in recent weeks have stabilized and the Serbs have regrouped and have even been pushing back on a few fronts. I think that meant we had the moment at which the Bosnians recognized that this was a good time to lock in the situation and focus on the negotiations.
Q Did Milosevic get anything out of this in terms of the United States, in terms of sweeteners, easing the embargo, meetings, anything of that nature?
MR. VERSHBOW: No. He simply helped bring about the Bosnian Serb acceptance of this, and thereby brought a peace settlement closer. We hope and, at that point, when there is a settlement, then the issue of suspension of additional sanctions will come into play, but not sooner.
Q What is the status of prisoners?
MR. VERSHBOW: Under the agreement -- this text will eventually be released; I do not have a clean copy yet, but it says that, "Upon the effective date of the cease-fire, all parties will immediately ensure that all civilians and prisoners will be treated humanely and that all prisoners of war will be exchanged under UNPROFOR's supervision."
Q On the day of the cease-fire or on the day of the final --
MR. VERSHBOW: No. The effective date of the cease-fire, October 10.
Q What does this agreement do as far as accelerating, if it does at all, the U.S. prospects of deploying troops to help implement a peace agreement?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, to the extent that we are now one important step closer to a peace settlement it brings closer the day that implementation will need to begin. But as the President said, there's a lot of deep divisions still to be overcome, many hard issues yet to be resolved in the negotiations. So we're not making any predictions as to the timing of signature of settlement. It is not in the bag yet.
Q There are five days left until the agreement, October 10. Do you expect heavy military action by any other parties trying to gain some territory?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, we would hope there will be a winding down of the military operations even before the effective date of the cease-fire. We have been urging restraint on all sides in recent days. Particularly now that a cease-fire has been agreed with an effective date, we would certainly see no real point in continued offensive action. But I can't say that it will stop until the actual date arrives and the cease-fire goes into effect.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:30 A.M. EDT