View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 13, 1998
                             PRESS BRIEFING

The Briefing Room

11:30 P.M. EDT

MR. LEAVY: Good morning. As you know, there's been important progress -- diplomatically, militarily -- on the crisis in Kosovo. The National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, will bring you up to the latest and answer your questions.

MR. BERGER: Thank you, David. Let me try to fill in some of the details involving the events of the past few days and few hours.

As we indicated yesterday, President Milosevic has made several commitments in his talks with Ambassador Holbrooke, following the discussions that took place in Belgrade over the past week. He has pledged, first, to full compliance with U.N. Security Council resolution 1199, implementing a cease-fire, withdrawing forces deployed in Kosovo, and returning the rest to garrison, complete access for humanitarian workers to deal with the displaced persons and others suffering in Kosovo, and cooperation with the U.N. Tribunal to investigate war crimes in Kosovo. Those are all the elements of 1199.

Most important, because as the President indicated, we certainly don't accept this simply based upon promises, is the quite intrusive verification system that President Milosevic has agreed to. This would enable OSCE monitors on the ground and NATO monitoring air craft system in the air with unrestricted access over Kosovo to ensure compliance. And, finally, he has agreed to a timetable for negotiations with the Kosovar-Albanians, that would Kosovo self-government and its own local police.

Now, commitments are not compliance. The NATO ACTORD, which NATO voted yesterday, remains in effect. As we continue through this period, we will want to watch events in Kosovo very closely to determine whether President Milosevic makes progress toward achieving the commitments he has made.

Let me speak a minute about the verification system, specifically, because obviously verification here is extraordinarily important. First, the ground presence to be organized and led by the OSCE would consist of roughly 2,000 personnel on the ground with the authority and expertise to report on and verify compliance in all key areas identified by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1199.

The OSCE mission will have authority to establish permanent presences at any location in Kosovo, to accompany movements by Serbian police and military border units; to help coordinate relief efforts and return people to their homes; upon a political settlement, to supervise elections, help establish institutions and local police; and demand removal or punishment of individuals or units who violate compliance.

The ground element not only will provide an international watchdog over all elements of Serbian forces to ensure continued compliance, but it's presence hopefully will provide and build confidence among the Kosovar people that is necessary for them to feel comfortable in returning to their homes and engaging in a political process.

The air verification system will be operated by NATO through reconnaissance air craft and other systems. It will have unrestricted aerial access over Kosovo. Air defenses will be removed from Kosovo or stored in contonement areas. Essentially, there will be a stand-down of air defenses while we are flying to create a non-threatening environment. And I expect the United States will participate in that NATO verification regime.

Finally, President Milosevic has undertaken to make some unilateral commitments regarding an interim settlement with the Kosovar Albanians on the status of Kosovo. These include a timetable for reaching some form of interim arrangements, a commitment that the Kosovar Albanians will have self-government and Kosovar institutions of government, and the establishment of Kosovar local police.

We will be, obviously, working very closely with our NATO allies, with OSCE over the days ahead to put in place those elements of this verification regime that depend upon outside presence, either from OSCE or from NATO. The ACTORD remains in effect, but as Secretary General Solana indicated, we will put it on hold for the next four days as we watch whether President Milosevic is making progress towards these objectives. And, obviously, the NAC will be meeting later in the week to decide what further steps are required.

Q Sandy, how long does the monitoring force exist? Is it in perpetuity or is it for a specific amount of time? And what will the American presence in this force be?

MR. BERGER: Well, there's not a time limit on the verification mission, presumably it will be there so long as it's necessary. That's why it's so important to get negotiations going between Belgrade and the Kosovar-Albanians to reach some sort of initially interim arrangements and create a greater degree of stability and equilibrium there. But there's no prescription or proscription on the time limit that the verification monitors -- the verification mission would be there. I think that's a judgment that would be made by the international community.

Q Are you thinking years?

MR. BERGER: Certainly months. I couldn't estimate. I think as long as they're fulfilling a necessary function, they will stay there. We've had a very small, as you know, observer mission called KDOM, roughly 50 people in Kosovo, but that's been an inadequate -- they've done yeoman's work, but it's really been inadequate in terms of numbers to cover the area. There's about 2 million people in Kosovo -- I think 2,000 inspectors here, or verifiers that we think is about the appropriate number.

Now, with respect to American participation, this will be an international group of people who are experienced, hopefully, in this kind of work. We would expect there to be Americans who participate in that, just as there have been Americans in the KDOM mission.

Q Fifty percent?

MR. BERGER: No, I doubt that seriously, but there will be some Americans in it.

Q Well, I understand that, but out of 2,000 can you give us --

MR. BERGER: I don't know what the percentage is. There are 38 members of OSCE, or 35 members. We'll draw this from around the world. It would not, I think, be an inordinate number of Americans, but certainly there are Americans who have done this kind of work in the past and we would hope to be able to enlist some Americans to do it again.

Q Is this an armed force, Sandy?

Q Can you give us the distinction between the observers and verifiers? What will verifiers be able to do that observers can't? And will they be able to investigate possible war crimes? I notice you said that they would be able to demand the removal of anyone who has done so, does that mean actually going in and arresting, collecting evidence?

MR. BERGER: I think that's a different function. First of all, I don't mean to draw any kind of sharp distinction between observers and verifiers. I think verifiers is a slightly more descriptive term. They have a job to do, which is to see whether or not the various elements of 1199 are being complied with and to report to OSCE and report to other organizations -- presumably NATO -- on whether or not those various obligations are being complied with. So they're both observing, as well as reporting. And I think verification is probably the best word to describe that.

Q What were the NATO --

Q Would they be able to collect --

MR. BERGER: These people are not there as War Crimes Tribunal investigators. There are those people that exist as part of the Hate Tribunal. And in agreeing to comply with 1199, one of the provisions of 1199 is to cooperate with the Tribunal and we would hope that that would take place.

Q Mr. Berger, over the next four days, what specific progress does Milosevic have to show? That's a long list of conditions that you cited, it seems almost impossible to meet them all in four days. What benchmarks does he have to meet to avoid NATO attacks?

MR. BERGER: Well, the obligations are clear and I think we have to see serious progress in the direction of meeting those obligations. Maintenance of a cessation of hostilities -- that has actually been in place now for about 11 days, or has not been fighting, and a cease-fire declared on the Albanian side. So obviously want to see that.

The other obligations are movement of forces, garrison of forces, allowing our verification people in the country, cooperating with that; helping to set up the NATO air surveillance system and cooperating with their obligations under that. All of these things -- helping the humanitarian workers in relocating the displaced persons. Obviously, not all of these things are going to be accomplished in 96 hours. We want to see serious progress towards compliance.

Q Do you realistically believe that 2,000 unarmed civilians can go in there and go along with the Serb troops on their missions and say, this Serb commander has got to go, and this one has got to stay?

MR. BERGER: I think 2,000 people there can determine what's going on. And if there is systematic non-compliance, I think they can report that to NATO. The ultimate enforcement here is NATO air power, is the ACTORD that was voted on yesterday. It is not for the verifiers to be enforcers; it is for the verifiers to be on the ground in a kind of pervasive way to determine what is going on. If there's systematic non-compliance, that would be reported back to NATO, and the NAC would have to decide whether to go forward with military action.

Q Sandy, what numbers have to go back to garrisons or have to leave Kosovo? And, secondly, are you advising NGOs and others to go back into Kosovo now and to try to do their work? Isn't there a vulnerability if they're there, and NATO has to at the end --

MR. BERGER: Well, we were hoping that the humanitarian -- the KDOM people -- will go back in. I believe even today or tomorrow, we'll get the KDOM people back in, some of whom left over the past few days. It's obviously very important here that we get the humanitarian people back in and we get this effort underway.

In terms of movement of forces, we want to see, particularly movement of forces that have been introduced recently and have been doing most of the repressive attacks against the Kosovar people, we need to see them moving out. And we need to see, basically, a less intimidating presence of the MUP forces that are on the ground so that people feel free in coming back to their homes.

Q Sandy, you didn't give any numbers, any real benchmarks in terms of numbers.

MR. BERGER: I'm not going to get into numbers game. We need to get forces that have been introduced into the area leaving; other forces, basically, that are in garrison or in other non-threatening situations; less roadblocks; less of a police presence. This is an overall picture that we want to see on which the situation is less intimidating, less repressive, less violent, so that people can get back to their homes and a negotiating process can begin.

Q There was, on another issue, a former Army intelligence analyst arrested today on spying charges. Can you comment on that at all?

MR. BERGER: There was a former Army soldier who was arrested, as you said, on espionage charges today. I think I'll refer you to the Justice Department for further details. But I can confirm the accuracy of your question.

Q -- for us the significance of the agreement on Kosovo. Is this a small interim step or a watershed? How significant do you think it is?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think it could be significant, it depends on what it leads to. I think it's significant in several respects. I think it's significant that 16 nations in NATO, for the second time only in NATO's history, came together and voted to use military force if necessary to deal with this violent, dangerous situation in the middle of Europe. A very difficult -- 16 sovereign nations to agree to do that. The first time they've ever agreed to do that in a dispute that basically is an internal dispute within a particular country. So I think that's important. That NATO has shown its resolve to act I think is important.

Second of all, that Milosevic has agreed to a highly robust and intrusive inspection system so that we can determine for ourselves whether he is complying I think is extremely helpful. Third, that he has agreed to a negotiation with the Kosovar Albanians based on self-government for Kosovo I think is also important.

But ultimately it depends on implementation, it depends upon compliance. I think that we have the possibility here -- we have a path, as the President said yesterday -- a path to peace and a more stable situation in Kosovo, but it depends upon what the parties do with it.

Q When will the verification force be in place, and what's the timetable for the autonomy negotiations?

MR. BERGER: The verification mission will be in place as soon as we can get it in place. I would hope that we would begin to see people flowing in their soon. Obviously, this is not a standing verification mission sitting in an armory some place in Germany. It has to be assembled; we have to have a head of it, which we hope we'll get done in the next few days, put together. And it will come in -- obviously, it's not going to come in all 2,000 at once. We will flow it in as we assemble it. But we will do that as expeditiously as we can. This is an obligation, in a sense, that the international community has taken on by itself.

Q Is the U.S. government concerned about the state of Boris Yeltsin's health and what appears to be his inability to govern Russia?

MR. BERGER: Well, President Yeltsin obviously has a number of physical problems resulting from a heart condition and otherwise. But as far as we can determine, he is in control in the Soviet Union -- in Russia, excuse me -- and continues to be in charge.

Q Sandy, winter is upon the refugees. Without an armed protection force in Kosovo, why should any refugee family feel safe returning to its home?

MR. BERGER: Well, there will be a large presence on the ground and in the air determining whether or not, in fact, there is repressive action being taken. If, in fact, that is the case, we expect these verifiers to report to the OSCE, to report to NATO that President Milosevic is not complying with the agreement. And we're back to NATO, and the issue is use of force. So I think we have to create an environment in which they feel comfortable coming back in because the threat of force exists, and there are independent, international observers on the ground to determine whether or not that compliance is taking place.

Q You're saying it's safe to return? It's safe to return, that's what you're saying?

MR. BERGER: I'm saying we hope to create the conditions in which it will be safe to return.

Q Kudos to Holbrooke? Does Holbrooke get a pat on the back?

MR. BERGER: I think Ambassador Holbrooke has done a very good job on this. I think Secretary General Solana and the NATO people have done a very good job on this. And, ultimately, I think the President has set the direction and determined that we are, in fact, here going to lead both in terms of willingness to use force and in terms of diplomacy. And again, I think that's proven to be the right decision.

END 11:48 A.M. EDT