THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT AND NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER
4:10 P.M. (L)
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thanks, Mike. Let me just try to give you an overall and then Sandy will go through some of the details of the meeting.
The President came to Sarajevo and Tuzla on the heels of his decision for our forces to stay. And while the decisions are being made as to what the force might look like, it is important for the people here to hear a very strong message from the President, which is that while we have come a long way in the last 6 or 7 months, there is a great deal to do here; and it is up to them -- and he met with the presidency -- to do the work and to make some tough decisions. We are here to help as we can, but what he was saying was that they have to do some of the heavy lifting themselves, they have to work together, there has to be a sense to try to create these joint institutions.
He also met with President Plavsic, and with her there was a very open discussion about the situation which she faces in Republic of Srbska and the importance that we place on her support and implementation of the Dayton process and the work that she is doing as she gets ready to set up a government. I think in all the meetings the President was very direct and made very clear our commitment to Bosnia; but also, just to repeat, made very clear that there is a lot of work to be done that the leaders themselves have to do.
We were very pleased with what we saw in Sarajevo. For those of us that have been here before, there really has been a great movement forward. And I think, as the President described in his speech, in concrete terms there really are changes in Sarajevo which we welcome and we're obviously very grateful to the troops that we're seeing here in Tuzla.
MR. BERGER: Let me give you a little more detail on the specific meeting. Let me just say one preliminary observation. I thought today was quite an extraordinary day in many respects, but perhaps most because what we saw and heard today in Sarajevo was a combination of what was, what is and what can be. And I think all through the day those three dimensions played themselves out in the President's speech, in the conversations he had as he walked around Sarajevo, in the tears of the eyes of men and women who saw him as he walked down the street and in the meetings that he held.
I think the most important meeting of the day was the meeting he held with the Joint Presidency, with President Izetbegovic, President Zubak, and President Krajisnik. The meeting was opened by President Izetbegovic, who said that he and all of the Bosnian people were truly excited by the President's decision to come. It really was, I think, and I'm told by the Ambassador, that when he told President Izetbegovic that the President was coming, he was almost stunned the President of the United States was actually coming to Sarajevo. He described it as an historic day in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And the citizens of Sarajevo are very happy.
He said that they were intent on implementing Dayton -- nothing more, nothing less; that it needed to be implemented fully in all of its aspects. He spoke in particular about preserving the unity of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the multi-ethnic quality. He talked about the importance of refugee returns. And he told the President that two days ago Sarajevo had decided -- the Federation, I guess, had decided -- that Sarajevo would become, I believe, the ninth open city in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is a program that has been adopted, or is being adopted around the country. Now, I think, six cities in the Federation, three cities in Srbska, where there is a concerted effort being made to bring minority refugees back to their homes. He talked about the importance of the apprehension and bringing justice -- by bringing justice to the war criminals.
He expressed the hope that the United States government will continue to provide support. He said the United States is not only a strong nation, but a great nation because it fulfills its mission in the world, and that's what distinguishes it from simply being a powerful nation. He thought there had been good progress on implementation of Dayton. He kind of described two periods -- the period from Dayton to Secretary Albright's mission, trip here -- when was that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: In June.
MR. BERGER: In June -- and that the pulse from that period forward. And I think the distinction he was making was an acceleration of the implementation process that has taken place most of this year in and around the Secretary's visit here.
He said that SFOR has a very good reputation, we should not be concerned; has great sympathy among the population. And he asked the President to thank the troops on behalf of the Bosnian people. He said that -- again, in the context of the refugee issue -- that Mrs. Ogata and the U.N. Human Rights Commission had designated -- refugees, that's right, I'm sorry -- the High Commission of -- thank you, Madame Secretary, I draw upon your background here -- had designated 1998 as the year of return -- which was certainly not worth my stumbling over the last 42 seconds. (Laughter.) And he talked about democratizing the media.
President Zubak spoke then. He again thanked the President for coming and thanked the American people for helping create peace and for the humanitarian support that Americans and others around the world had provided for Bosnian people, both during the war and since. He said that peace was yielding results. He felt that was demonstrable in all walks of life, but the process was slower than perhaps we all wanted because the crisis had been very deep and that we needed to take that into account and we must have patience.
He said that Bosnia-Herzegovina is possible, can survive and can be a country -- this is from the Bosnian-Croat President -- if the natural differences between people are respected and they are seen as an enriching reality, and thought that that was very much the President's vision as well. President Krajisnik, the Serb Co-President, also described this as an historic moment, big event; thanked America for producing the peace, which was above all else, he said, the turning point. He said that Dayton was a compromise. All the parties objected to some provisions of it, but they had to -- but they all embraced it in its totality. He was very thankful to the United States -- said there is God and then there is America. His view was the great danger that we would revise Dayton to the disadvantage of the Serbs, in his view, and thought the President should come to Srbska.
The President then spoke. He said that -- I should say -- let me step back here and set the scene, of the great storyteller in the middle of the story. (Laughter.) Sitting around the table, in addition to the President and the leaders, the Secretary and other members of our delegation were -- several members of the congressional delegation -- Senator Dole, Senator Biden, Senator Stevens and then the other members of the congressional delegation, were also present at the meeting, as well as the military leadership -- General Shelton and General Clark and General Shinseki. The President said he wanted to be very straightforward; that we didn't have a lot of time in this meeting and therefore he wanted to maximize its value; that the United States would supported Dayton and would support those who supported Dayton in Bosnia.
He thought that we had been behind schedule in civil implementation, as he said before; although he thought that we had been picking up the pace. He talked about the importance of -- he both recognized and acknowledged the enormous progress that has been made, but then pointed out the things that all of them had to focus on: the permanent joint institutions, refugee returns, corruption, independent media. He said he recognized the wounds of war were deep, but it was up to the leaders to implement Dayton; and people deserve no less and expected that to happen.
The general -- as Secretary Albright has pointed out -- and the President then went a little bit around the table to each of the leaders and talked about things that each could do in terms of sharing power, in terms of getting rid of the vestigial institutions of the old Herzegovina in terms of Srbska recognizing that this is a unitary state. He was very direct and very candid with the three leaders.
Senator Biden made some comments. Senator Dole made some comments, very supportive of what the President said; Secretary Albright did. And, again, I think in total it was a very straightforward, very candid and, I think, helpful meeting. The President ended by saying that obviously it's important for the economy -- a number of the leaders had talked about the economy -- and he said it is important to the economy to recover. That obviously will help to change attitudes that were here. The United States -- not because we have territorial ambitions or because we have any ulterior motive. We're here because stopping the war was in our national interest and building this peace is very much driven by our values.
I think that's a general summary of the meeting. The meeting with Mrs. Plavsic, as the Secretary indicated, focused in particular on the situation in Srbska. She made a very important point. She said one should not forget -- one should not overlook the dramatic things that have happened that you don't see, that you now take for granted. This is not her phrase, but in a sense she was saying that what was extraordinary has now become ordinary. And in particular she talked about freedom of movement. And we all spent months in Washington working toward achieving a greater degree of freedom of movement within this country.
When IFOR first came there were checkpoints all over the place. You couldn't go half a dozen miles without being stopped. And now, basically, there's freedom of movement. One of the students in the cafe with the President was a Serb student that comes into Sarajevo to go to school every day. And she said -- this happened in the last five months, an extraordinary development -- she said she's now trying to form her government following the assembly election. She said that she believed it was very important to support Dayton. And as all of the leaders indicated, they all believe that the international presence was indispensable and I think what the President was saying was the international presence was here, but the ultimate responsibility for the destiny of Bosnia lies with the Bosnians.
There was a small -- a couple of other quick meetings. The President met briefly with President Izetbegovic, as Chairman of the Joint Presidency, essentially kind of a continuation of the conversation taking place before. He met with Carlos Westendorp, who is, as you know, the High Commissioner; John Klein, the Deputy High Commissioner was in a number of our meetings. And so compressed in this space and time was, I think, a pretty intense discussion about what has been, what is, what can be.
Q You've described a lot of discussion and give and take in the meetings of the Joint Presidency. Was it a tension-free meeting?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Actually, I think, yes. I think that it was a meeting in which there was a great deal of frankness and openness. But I would not describe it as being tense, mainly because I think the President and all of us -- but especially the President -- made quite clear our commitment to helping. And it was also very clear that it was thanks to the role that we had played that they had come as far as they have come.
So while I think it was very frank, I would not describe it as a tense meeting.
MR. BERGER: I agree with that. I also would say, though, I mean, the President obviously made a deliberate decision that this is not simply going to be a feel-good meeting. I mean, he had business to do, and the message he wanted to deliver was, as I said, you've got to bear down even harder. A lot has been done. It's extraordinary what we've seen. I'm sure you've talked to people who were in Sarajevo two years ago -- there were not even people on the streets, let alone what we saw today. But there is still work to be done.
Q One question of fact. How long were each of these meetings? And also, did Mrs. Plavsic make any specific commitments? And how comfortable are we with this public embrace of here today? I mean, is there any uneasiness about that?
MR. BERGER: -- the President of the Republic of Srbska, so it's not like she's not a legitimate leader of Srbska. Just to answer your first question, I would guess the first meeting went 40 minutes, 30 to 40 minutes. The Izetbegovic meeting probably 10 minutes. The Plavsic meeting maybe 20, 15 to 20.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I met with Mrs. Plavsic separately earlier. And I would say that, as Sandy said, she is the legitimately elected President. She also, I think, has a very clear picture of what has to be done. And she is -- has made quite clear in word and deed that she wants to implement Dayton. And we have said that we support those who support Dayton. And as she now begins to form her government, she is interested in making sure that the police is increasingly democratized, that the media is able to operate openly, that there is even more free movement, and that there be as much as possible done to reconstruct the economy. So the equation is, we support those who support Dayton.
Q Do you expect any more inclination on the part of Ms. Plavsic to be cooperative in the handing over of some of the more prominent war crimes suspects? Any feel for that?
MR. BERGER: My impression is in the congressional meeting when asked about that question, he quite pointedly did not -- said I think it's better for me not to comment on that -- which is kind of an interesting answer.
Q What do -- think of that?
MR. BERGER: She didn't say no apprehension of war criminals.
Q The President told these three guys that it's up to them to implement Dayton. But these three guys can't agree on what the money should look like, or the car license plates. Did you get any feeling that they actually listened to him and that any impact is going to come from this?
MR. BERGER: Well, they talked a little bit about the flag. The fact that there's disagreement on the flag should not obscure what has happened here in the last two years. Symbols are often the most difficult things to deal with. I mean, look at the issue between Greece and Macedonia on the design of a flag. This is not simply about whether one designer versus another designer. This goes very much to self-image and sense of nationhood. I suspect this issue will get resolved. But they have created a joint presidency. that joint presidency has created a parliament; it's created a council of ministers; it's created a constitutional court, all of which meet.
So I think that to put too much emphasis on something like that is slightly out of proportion. But the President did raise it, said get it done. Excuse me --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just say, you all are very used to following the President around and seeing him in various cities in the United States and around the world. But I can tell you, from having been here a number of times myself, and others who have been here, I think the excitement over the President of the United States coming to Sarajevo is palpable and you cannot in any way underestimate the importance of what is going on here. And the people lining the streets and a sense about the symbolic importance of him being here. And this goes back to were they listening. And if they can't agree on a flag, I think Sandy is absolutely right, having listened to the FYROM discussion at the U.N. longer than most people. And I think that here they -- I think it's very important to understand the importance of his being here and telling them what he said in a way where the three of them were together, and he was delivering the message himself. And then the rest of us were -- supporting and -- especially the members of Congress. So I do think that it is a, I think, a key event, the President's presence here.
MR. BERGER: Let me just add, I think that's a very important point. Let me just add one piece to it, one dimension to it. I think that this has been a very extraordinarily brutal and painful six-year period for this country -- '91 particularly to '95, and then trying to reconstruct something out of those deep wounds. And in many ways, I think the President of the United States coming here is a validation for the struggle to build the peace. And I think in that sense it gives those who are engaged in that enterprise an enormous sense of resoluteness to carry on.
I mean, just look at the face of that young boy who introduced the President in a wheelchair and watch his expression as the President was talking. What he stood for was validated by the President. What those kids up in the balconies believe about their future was validated by what the President said, what those kids in the cafe said. The future of Bosnia lies in this next generation, obviously. And so I think in that sense, I actually agree with Madeleine. I think it is -- it says the world cares and the world is going to stay with you in this effort. But ultimately it is your peace to make.
Q -- want to return to -- "no comment" on the question of war criminals. Isn't that a pretty -- that was a silence of sorts, but a pretty pregnant silence?
MR. BERGER: Well, I'm not sure I would -- I don't know. I was not in that meeting, so I really shouldn't comment further on it.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I was not in that meeting, but I made very clear to her when I met with her that part of complying with Dayton is to cooperate with the War Crimes Tribunal. So, frankly, what we were spending a great deal of time on were some very practical things in terms of her getting her government set up.
MR. BERGER: I should also say that the President made that point very specifically and pointedly to President Krajisnik in the tripartheid meeting.
Q What was his response?
MR. BERGER: He didn't respond.
Q What kind of impact do you expect this trip to have back home, both with the public and the Congress, given the delegation you brought along.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think you'll have to ask them. But I do think that, from my perspective anyway, that the combination of things that we have seen here, the willingness of people, some of the troops that we've talked to say that they think that this is an important mission.
The President's speech, which I believe to be one of the finest that he's given in terms of explaining our commitment to Bosnia, I think it will have a positive impact. And I think if they pay attention to some of the individual stories and to see the mood and the symbolism of the Sarajevo Philharmonic, I think it is a -- in my own thinking, I would say that this trip will have a positive impact because of the combination of things: of the President's presence here, his commitment to Bosnia, and at the same time his being candid about what needs to be done.
We are going to be candid with you and the American public about the fact that there is work to be done, and that the momentum has to be maintained, and that we are here to help. But as Sandy and I have both said, they have to do the heavy lifting. And we are going to keep pressing and just to keep -- you know, I say this about other places I've gone -- but telling it like it is about what has to be done. And that's what we will do, and that's the impact of the trip.
MR. BERGER: Let me just say one other thing. I think it's interesting that the President chose to bring a quite diverse congressional delegation. It's obviously bipartisan. It's obviously House and Senate, but it reflects a range of views. I mean, we could have simply invited the people who are strong proponents of a very strong American role in Bosnia. That was not the judgment that we made. And I think that's a healthy thing.
Q I'm a little curious about the President's own reaction to this. He's talked a lot back in the states about Bosnia as an example of what can happen if we let cultural, ethnic, racial differences go unaddressed? He'd never actually been to Sarajevo before. He highlighted in his speech all the progress that had been made, but was he moved or shocked by how ravaged the city still is? Did he indicate anything regarding that?
MR. BERGER: I think the President was -- and the First Lady both were quite moved by what they saw and heard. I don't think one can be an American and see the slaughter that was ended and the gratitude of the people for what we have done and the genuine desire for us to help them see it through and not be moved. And I think the President was moved by that.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say, I would have -- I think that Sandy has obviously described the President's feelings; but you're saying shock. For those of us that have been to Sarajevo before, I would say that would surprise me was the rapidity of the change, even since I was here in June; that it really looks a lot better. And that even though it is winter, there are many people out on the streets and there seems to be a much greater sense of normalcy than there was in June. It's my fourth trip here to Sarajevo and I think that while to those who come for the first time there might be a sense that there are a lot of windows missing, there are a lot of buildings that are going up and a lot of -- a sense of putting things back together.
MR. BERGER: I asked General Kerrick who, as you may know, was part of the Dayton negotiating team and who was here frequently during the war, and Jock Covey, who was now at the NSC and who was here immediately in '95 -- on what the most striking difference is from '95. And they said there was nobody on the street in '95 and certainly no children -- you never saw any young person, the parents kept them in their basements to protect them. And just the sheer normalcy of people being on the streets, people being able to go about their daily lives, there being light, there being electricity, there being water, there being power, there being jobs. These are around profound changes that have taken place.
Q Have you decided to appoint Mr. Dole to the Commission for Missing Persons? And is that an effort, perhaps, to have him bring along people within his party to also get behind this proposal to extend the troop deadline?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I meant to tell you, I did it about two months ago. And he is the Chairman of it, having taken over from former Secretary Vance. And I think that everybody knows that Senator Dole had a great interest in Bosnia and had -- we all talked to him a great deal. I did when I was up in New York. And I think the reason that we did it was because of his interest in Bosnia, and making sure that there are -- there is some accounting -- one of the hardest parts here in the times that I've been here is like meeting with the mothers of Srebrenica who can't account for the missing; and the fact that the issue of the missing is a very large one in terms of reconciliation. And when I announced the deployment, I said how very pleased we were that he would take this up. And having him here with us, I think, is very important for that effort.
Q Secretary Albright, you said you met with President Plavsic to discuss rebuilding government. Does she really believe it's possible to rebuild her government with the war criminals still controlling things in Pale.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think she thinks it's very important to get a functioning government of people that are going to put their shoulder to the wheel and really be professional; and that she thinks that -- my sense about her is that she is pretty no-nonsense about getting things done. She is trying to find the right people. She obviously continues to be in a situation of antagonism with the people in Pale. And she is just moving forward.
She's in a tough situation. She is doing what she can to support Dayton, which is why we are supporting her.
MR. MCCURRY: There is nothing that -- anything needs to be cleanup from back home? Good. We wouldn't know it if there was. We have no comment on the Redskins or anything like that. Okay.
Q Is there a decision about Aviano, yes or no?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think they're still checking to see what the minimums are in Aviano. And we probably won't know until --
Q What's on for tomorrow, Mike? Regular briefing?
MR. MCCURRY: Tomorrow. I think later in the day the President will light the menorah in the Oval. And I don't know that there's any other schedule. That's the only thing that we've got.
(interruption in feed)
Q Are you doing a regular briefing?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not planning to either gaggle or brief tomorrow unless there's any objection. I don't think -- the President's got the day off with the exception of the Hanukkah ceremony. And the balance of the week will be last-minute Christmas shopping and then his own personal observance of Christmas. No news, no briefs, no gaggles, no McCurry.
Q That includes Wednesday, no gaggle, no brief on Wednesday?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, same for Wednesday, too -- no gaggle or brief on Wednesday. So we are in a news-free zone after today.
END 3:42 P.M. (L)