THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
The Roosevelt Room
11:35 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I have just met with Secretary Christopher and our Bosnia negotiating team, led by Ambassador Holbrooke. As you know, they are preparing to leave for Dayton, Ohio, in just a few moments. There, the Presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia will start direct negotiations which we hope will lead to a peaceful, lasting settlement in Bosnia.
I want to repeat today what I told President Tudjman and President Izetbegovic when we met in New York last week. We have come to a defining moment in Bosnia. This is the best chance we've had for peace since the war began. It may be the last chance we have for a very long time. Only the parties to this terrible conflict can end it. The world now looks to them to turn the horror of war to the promise of peace.
The United States and our partners -- Russia, Germany, France and the United Kingdom -- must do everything in our power to support them. That is what I have just instructed Secretary Christopher and our team to do in the days ahead in Dayton. We will succeed only if America continues to lead.
Already our military strength through NATO and our diplomatic determination have advanced the possibility of peace in Bosnia. We can't stop now. The responsibilities of leadership are real, but the benefits are greater. We see them all around the world -- a reduced nuclear threat, democracy in Haiti, peace breaking out in the Middle East and in Northern Ireland. In Bosnia, as elsewhere, when the United States leads we can make progress. And if we don't, progress will be much more problematic.
Making peace in Bosnia is important to America. Making peace will end the terrible toll of this war -- the innocent lives lost, the futures destroyed. For four years the people of Bosnia have suffered the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II -- mass executions, ethnic cleansing, concentration camps, rape and terror, starvation and disease. We continue to learn more and more even in the present days about the slaughters in Srebrenica.
The best way -- the only way -- to stop these horrors is to make peace. Making peace will prevent the war from spreading. So far, we have been able to contain this conflict to the former Yugoslavia. But the Balkans lie at the heart of Europe, next door to several of our key NATO allies and to some of the new, fragile European democracies. If the war there reignites, it could spread and spark a much larger conflict, the kind of conflict that has drawn Americans into two European wars in this century. We have to end the war in Bosnia and do it now.
Making peace will advance our goal of a peaceful, democratic and undivided Europe, a Europe at peace with extraordinary benefits to our long-term security and prosperity, a Europe at peace with partners to meet the challenges of the new century -- challenges that affect us here at home like terrorism and drug trafficking, organized crime and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. A peaceful, democratic, undivided Europe will be that kind of partner.
In Dayton, our diplomats face a tremendous challenge. There is no guarantee they will succeed. America can help the parties negotiate a settlement, but we cannot impose a peace. In recent weeks, thanks to our mediation efforts, the parties to the war have made real progress. The parties have put into effect a Bosnia-wide cease-fire. They have agreed to the basic principles of a settlement. Bosnia will remain a single state comprised of two entities -- but, I repeat, a single state. There must be free elections and democratic institutions of government at the national and regional levels.
Now, beyond this, many difficult issues remain to be resolved. These include the internal boundary between the Bosnia-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic, the status of Sarajevo, the practical steps that need to be taken to separate hostile forces, and the procedures for free elections. That's just a few of the difficult issues this team will have to confront beginning today.
I urge the parties to negotiate seriously for the good of their own people. So much is riding on the success in Dayton, and the whole world is watching. If the parties do reach a settlement, NATO must help to secure it; and the United States, as NATO's leader, must participate in such an effort.
Again I say, there is no substitute for American leadership. After so many years of violence and bloodshed, a credible international military presence in Bosnia is needed to give the parties confidence to live up to their own agreements and to give them time to begin the long, hard work of rebuilding and living together again. NATO is the one organization with the track record and the strength to implement a settlement.
And as I've said many times, the United States, the source of NATO's military strength, must participate. If we don't participate in the implementation force our NATO partners, understandably, would reconsider their own commitments. We would undermine American leadership of the Alliance. We would weaken the Alliance itself. And the hard-won peace in Bosnia could be lost.
American troops would not be deployed -- I say this again -- would not be deployed unless and until the parties reach a peace agreement. We must first have a peace agreement. And that is what I would urge the American people and the members of Congress to focus on over the next few days. They would, if going into Bosnia, operate under NATO command, with clear rules of engagement and a clearly defined mission. They would not be asked to keep a peace that cannot be kept. But they would make sure we do our part in helping peace to hold.
As the peace process moves forward I will continue to consult closely with the Congress. If a peace agreement is reached I will request an expression of support in Congress for committing United States troops to a NATO implementation force. Our foreign policy works best when we work together. I want the widest possible support for peace.
But now it would be premature to request an expression of support because we can't decide many of the details of implementation until an agreement is clearly shaped and defined. Let me stress again, we aren't there yet; there are still difficult obstacles ahead. The focus on Dayton must be on securing the peace. Without peace there will be nothing for us to secure.
Earlier this month in New Jersey, I had the privilege of spending time with His Holiness Pope Paul -- Pope John Paul II. At the end of our meeting, the Pope said something to me I would like to repeat. He said, you know, I am not a young man. I have lived through most of this century. This century began with a war in Sarajevo. Mr. President, you must not let it end with a war in Sarajevo.
All of us must do our part to hear the Pope's plea. Our conscience as a nation devoted to freedom and tolerance demands it. Our conscience as a nation that wants to end this mindless slaughter demands it. Our enduring interest in the security and stability of Europe demand it. This is our challenge. And I'm determined to do everything I can to see that America meets that challenge.
Q Mr. President, what is the effect of the House resolution on these talks? And do you feel hemmed in by them?
THE PRESIDENT: No. No, I wouldn't expect it to have any effect on the talks. I think we have to get the peace agreement first. I expect to consult intensively with the leaders of Congress, beginning -- I believe tomorrow the congressional leadership is coming in and I expect to talk to them about Bosnia in detail, and then to keep working with the congressional leadership and with members of Congress who are interested in this right along, all the way through the process. And I expect them to say that they want to ask questions and to have them answered before they would agree to the policy that I will embark on.
Q Mr. President, looking back at the advice that General Colin Powell gave you on Bosnia when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was that bad advice, his reluctance to use air power to force the parties into negotiations?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me tell you, today we're starting a peace process. And we have done things that have brought us to this point. I believe we have done the right things . But I think the American people should be focused on peace and on the process and the work before us.
Q Mr. President, are you going to make peace with the Republicans tomorrow and strike some sort of debt extension agreement?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I look forward to having the opportunity to discuss that with them. I know Senator Dole and Leon Panetta have had a brief conversation about it. I know that a lot of others are contacting the Congress about it. So we'll have a chance to talk about that tomorrow as well.
Q Are you willing to accept a short-term, through November 29th, as has been suggested, extension?
THE PRESIDENT: I think any responsible extension is a move forward. I think the main thing is we want to send a message to the world and to our own financial markets and to our own people that America honors its commitments; that we are not going to see the first example in the history of the republic where we don't pay our bills.
Thank you very much.
Q Mr. President, have you been briefed on the Aldrich Ames damage assessment?
Q Are you happy about Canada?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
END 11:45 A.M. EST