THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY RICHARD SKLAR, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE AND REPRESENTATIVE OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR CIVILIAN IMPLEMENTATION IN BOSNIA AND SANDY VERSHBOW, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS AT NSC The Briefing Room
2:42 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I've got an announcement from the President. The President today is pleased to announce the appointment of Richard Sklar as his Special Representative and the Representative of the Secretary of State for Civilian Implementation in Bosnia. In the President's words in a statement we'll have for you shortly, he says, "This appointment underscores that with success in meeting the principle military tasks under the Dayton Accords we must give high priority now to making the peace irreversible by accelerating efforts to rebuild the political and economic fabric of Bosnian society."
Mr. Sklar will be the senior U.S. official in residence in Bosnia. He'll be responsible for coordinating the work of all U.S. civilian agencies that are now involved in the reconstruction effort that's underway. He'll work, obviously, under the authority of the U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia, Ambassador Menzies. His responsibilities will encompass humanitarian assistance, economic revitalization and reconstruction, the resettlement of refugees, conduct of elections and strengthening of public security.
He'll also serve as liaison to counterparts from other countries that have been participating in the reconstruction and development effort in Bosnia. Dick Sklar has got a very impressive 35-year record of service in the public and private sector. He's most recently been president and CEO of O'Brien-Kreizberg, which is the oldest and largest pure project and construction management firm in the country. So he brings credentials of very well qualified for an important post, an important part of the process of strengthening and deepening the peace process foreseen in the Dayton Accords.
I'm delighted that Dick can be here. He will say a few words and then, also with him is Sandy Vershbow, who is our senior director for European Affairs at the NSC.
Dick, congratulations, it's a pleasure to have you here.
MR. SKLAR: The President has honored me by asking me to take 40 years of experience into a new and unusual challenge. I've learned over these years how to take things from ideas to physical reality, but I think I'm going into a place where the rules of the game are different than at an airport in New York or a rail system in Cleveland.
I understand fully the importance of moving from this very successful military effort and the first successful efforts in the civilian phase, where the funding is in place, there's planning done, to the need to get reality in place. The people in Bosnia have got to see that peace is something different than the absence of shooting. And that's what we're going to set about trying to do over the next three or four years.
The World Bank has laid out for all us an ambitious agenda. The U.S. has put resources in place, as has the Bank, the European Union, other bilateral donors. And we're going to work with the folks who are on the ground and see if we can move some of these things into physical being.
Q Do you have to be confirmed for your nomination?
MR. SKLAR: No, I do not.
Q And, how's it going so far, as to what you can tell?
MR. SKLAR: Well, I have been spending the last four or five days climbing up a very steep learning curve here, and I'm going to leave for Bosnia in a couple of days and climb further. What is clear is that not all of the money, but a large amount of money, has been both pledged and delivered by this government, the World Bank and others. The plans are in place against a World Bank list of priorities that I think has been very intelligently put together. The next step is to start the physical movement into design and building. And we're going to start that, and I'll tell you in a couple of months how it's going.
Q Do you ever see the money every contributed by all nations, or just --
MR. SKLAR: No, the United States has its own package. The work with the World Bank -- and Jim Wolfensohn and I met yesterday, and his staff again today -- are clearly going to work together. It's going to be a cooperative effort. This is not a United States effort. We're about 20 percent of the funds. Our leadership as it was during the war ending phase, the shooting ending phase, will be critical. But it will only work if it works in conjunction with the Bank, the EU and the other bilateral donors.
Q Who oversees all of it?
MR. SKLAR: There is no single person. Carl Bildt runs the entire civilian effort and so all of it will be under his overall direction. But, again, the United States cannot fail to take leadership and work cooperatively. And as I said, the earliest meetings with the World Bank have been excellent. I'm certain the Europeans will be anxious to cooperate also.
Q Mr. Sklar, in the past, in similar international efforts, it's been difficult to track the funds, to make sure they're used in a proper manner. How much of a role do you think you're going to have in making sure that U.S. tax dollars aren't squandered over there?
MR. SKLAR: I've had a long history of using and managing public funds for public bodies in intelligent ways to deliver projects on time and on budget. I hope I'll be able to do the same here. We'll find out. I don't have any illusions about the difficulty of working in this environment. It is not, as I said, it is not the same as Cleveland or Buffalo or Atlanta.
Q There have been growing calls from many quarters for the elections to be postponed. Would the U.S. agree to this?
MR. SKLAR: I am not now, or in the future, going to get into political questions. And with respect to the elections, my job will be to make sure that Bob Frowick has the logistical pieces in place to proceed. But that's not something I have any way of answering. I see no reason why they should not proceed. But that's not my agenda.
Q What are some of the big infrastructure projects in the U.S. package?
MR. SKLAR: The U.S. package is focused on restoring basic services to towns and villages -- sewer, water, gas, electric and heat -- both for residential purposes -- and there's got to be residential reconstruction, too -- but to get small businesses going. It'll extend, in cooperation with the World Bank, to larger projects. The U.S. total package is not enough in itself to rebuild major hydrostations, but it will be a cooperative effort. And our initial thrust will be at the ground in the towns.
Q Has the refugee resettlement been pretty much of a failure thus far? I mean, it seems like the ethnic groups are not allowing other ethnic groups to come back to places they were kicked out of. Are they really going to be able to put their lives and cities back together?
MR. SKLAR: I'll be able to give you an opinion on that when I get back from my first trip and maybe after my second, but I can't right now.
MR. VERSHBOW: Yes. I think it's too soon to draw any conclusions about the return of refugees. It's going to be a multi-year project, and that's how Mrs. Ogata, of the UNACR is trying to organize it. We're concentrating in the short-term, on improving freedom of movement, and we think that we've made some significant strides. We hear a lot about the problems, but one neglects to pay attention to the fact that 10- to 15,000 people are crossing in and out of the opposite entity every day in both directions.
And so this is going to take a lot of time to unfold, but we're building this process of freedom of movement step by step. And as we look down the road over the next one to three years, I think we can see a process of resettlement taking hold.
Q Sandy, what do you think about the elections?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, as you know, we think that elections should take place within the time frame that was agreed to by all the parties in Dayton. They're an essential element to building the constitutional structures that were agreed at Dayton, putting into place the central government, the parliament, the constitutional court that are essential to make Bosnia work as a single country.
So we're not convinced that there's a good case for postponing the elections but, rather to the contrary. And, indeed, we think the conditions are beginning to take shape in which free and fair elections can take place. We're making progress on freedom of movement. Ambassador Frowick has done tremendous work in putting together the regime under which the elections will be held. The local election commissions are set up. All the parties have agreed to the ground rules under which refugees can return to vote, or they can vote by absentee ballot in their original places of residence.
So we think that by the end of the summer there's no question that the conditions will be sufficient to hold a free and fair election, which is a vital objective.
Q Can you refresh our memories on how much the total package is that Mr. Sklar will be administering over there?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, the U.S. has pledged for this year about $200 million for economic reconstruction. Plus, when you add in other funds for other civil tasks, it comes to about $550 million for this year -- that includes things like de-mining, the police and the like.
So he'll be overseeing the implementation of all these different civilian programs, and also trying to make them mesh with the international efforts and to try to be the spark plug that makes those international efforts move as quickly as we're trying to make our own move. AID is determined to ensure that its program for this year is completed and implemented before the end of the construction season, so that there are tangible results evident to Bosnian citizens by the end of the year, around the time the elections are taking place so that they will see, as he said, that peace is a hell of a lot more than just the absence of fighting.
Q Can you give us an update on U.S. efforts to neutralize Karadzic and Mladic? What's happening now?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, the next step towards that end is the departure tomorrow of Ambassador Kornblum to the region to put additional pressure on Milosevic, who undertook at Dayton to ensure that Karadzic and Mladic would be removed from positions of authority. Under the Dayton constitution they are not allowed to hold office -- that's from day one, not from the time of the elections next September.
Q It doesn't seem to be working very well, I mean -- MR. VERSHBOW: Well, I think we're certainly not satisfied
with what's happened. There's been some movement in recent weeks, but it's far from sufficient. Karadzic handing over a few of his powers to his vice president is simply not enough, it's largely a cosmetic move. And Kornblum made that very clear to Milosevic when they met on his last swing through the region. And after Kornblum's stop in Belgrade at the end of the week, Secretary Christopher is convening a summit of the three Balkan presidents. This will be one of the top priorities.
So that is the focus of our attention right now.
Q Do you see the elections taking place with these two guys still around, Mladic and Karadzic, in the same positions?
MR. VERSHBOW: Certainly we would prefer that they be removed from the scene as quickly as possible, within the coming days or weeks. But we're not saying that the elections cannot take place if they are still at large. They cannot run as candidates. They cannot be elected or hold office. And we believe it's critically important that other voices within the Bosnian-Serb political establishment begin to be heard. And we're pushing very hard to open up the media, to encourage independent voices -- particularly in Banja Luka -- to step forward as an alternative to the Karadzic group. So we don't think it's desirable that they still be out there, but the election still could take place.
Q And they would be free and fair -- they could be free and fair there?
MR. VERSHBOW: We think they could be.
Q When do you leave, Mr. Sklar?
MR. SKLAR: In the next three or four days.
END 2:53 P.M. EDT