THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT REGIONAL APPOINTMENTS EVENT
Room 450 Old Executive Office Building
4:34 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much and welcome. I know you have had a lot of briefings. I've been briefed on some of the briefings. (Laughter.) I got a colorful briefing on Mr. Begala's exuberance when he was here. (Laughter.)
I would like to, before I begin my remarks to you, it's my last opportunity to see the press today, and I'd like to say a few words about Kosovo and the recent developments there.
I'm very encouraged that NATO's persistence and resolve have compelled President Milosevic to pull back his forces and comply very substantially with the demands of the international community. Hopefully now the climate of fear and intimidation can be lifted and Kosovar Albanians can return to their villages, and more importantly over the long run, that negotiations toward a durable and peaceful resolution can move forward.
From the outset we have had three overriding objectives in Kosovo. First, to end the violence that threatens the fragile stability of the Balkans. Second, to prevent a humanitarian crisis from becoming a catastrophe by stopping the repression of Kosovar Albanians. And third, to put Kosovo back into the hands of its people by giving them self-government again.
We've achieved real progress toward each of these objectives. The fighting has stopped; displaced people are beginning to return to their homes; humanitarian aid is flowing; and Mr. Milosevic has agreed to negotiate self-government for Kosovo with a timetable to achieve it.
It is not enough, however, for Mr. Milosevic to come into compliance; he must also stay in compliance. To verify that, the international community will continue to deploy an unprecedented international presence in Kosovo, on the ground and in the air -- something which Mr. Milosevic had resisted before for a decade.
As a result of the improving security climate, up to 40,000 displaced people already have been returned to their homes from the mountains, escaping the mortal jeopardy of a winter without shelter. As the cease-fire holds, more humanitarian relief workers and international verifiers move into Kosovo. Serb forces stay out. And roadblocks and checkpoints stay down. The confidence level of the remaining displaced people should now increase. And they, too, will be able to come in from the cold.
Over the long run, stability in Kosovo depends upon a durable political settlement -- ultimately, on the establishment of democracy and civil society, including a free press throughout the Former Yugoslavia. Now Mr. Milosevic has agreed to internationally-supervised democratic elections in Kosovo, substantial self-government and a local police. In short, rights the Kosovars have been demanding since Mr. Milosevic stripped their autonomy a decade ago.
NATO's willingness to act, combined with determined diplomacy created this chance to end the suffering and repression in Kosovo and to put its people on the path to peace. But this is a chance, not a guarantee. That is why NATO today agreed to retain the authority, the forces, and the readiness to act if Mr. Milosevic backslides on his commitments.
We are at a hopeful moment, but we should be under no illusion; there is still a lot of hard road to walk before hope can triumph over hatred in the Balkans. I feel much better today about this, but we've still got to stay on the case if we want to see hope, freedom, and peace prevail.
Again, I'd like to thank Mr. Solana, Secretary General of NATO; General Clark, our Commanding General; and Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Hill and others who have worked so hard on this.
I'd also like to thank the people who helped to put together this day for you: Goody Marshall, Kris Balderston, Elizabeth Steele, Eric Dodd. I'm grateful that at least once a year you get to come here, and we get to tell you what we're doing, and you get to tell us what you're doing -- more important, that we get to thank you for the essential role you play in making this administration work for the American people.
Here in Washington, we often come up with great sounding policies. You have to make them work in the real world. It's the GSA's Jay Pearson making our computers in school initiative work by donating hundreds of good computers to schools throughout the Pacific northwest; or Elaine Guiney, creating the nation's first one-stop capital shop in Boston to speed up small business loans; or John Pouland bringing together diverse groups to work to make the Rio Grande and economically vibrant and environmentally healthy American heritage river.
All of you, in different ways, are the eyes and ears of this administration. You are the helping hands of our administration. And we are very, very appreciative of what you do.
And look at what, together, we have done with the American people. Nearly 17 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment in 28 years, the smallest percentage of people on welfare in 29 years, more small businesses created in the past five years than in the previous 12 years combined, the highest home ownership in history, and last month, just a couple of days ago we announced we reached a goal of two-thirds of the American people in their own homes -- a goal we had set for the year 2000, almost two years ahead of time.
Now, these goals, plus the lowest crime rate in 25 years, the cleanest environment in a generation, and, of course, the first balanced budget in 29 years, have been very, very encouraging to me. Just a couple of weeks ago, we reached agreement with the Republican majority on a fiscally responsible balanced budget that seizes this moment of prosperity to invest more in our future. We fought for and won vital new investments for children -- 100,000 new teachers; child literacy; continued funding for our goal to connect every classroom and library to the Internet by the year 2000; college mentoring programs so that we can go into middle schools and tell children that, number one, they can get the help they need now and, number two, we can tell them now exactly what kind of financial help they can get to go to college if they stay in school, learn their lessons and look to the future.
We fought for and won full funding for the International Monetary Fund to help protect our own economy and to help to stabilize the financial turmoil around the world. We fought for and won emergency relief for hard-pressed farmers and ranchers. We fought for and won substantial increases for our Clean Water Initiative, to head off the threat of global climate change, to protect more precious lands, to invest in science and medical research.
We can be particularly proud of the fact that we fought for and won the right to reserve every penny of the surplus until we save Social Security first. Despite efforts of some in the congressional majority to squander the surplus on election year tax plans, we now are well positioned to save Social Security for the 21st century.
Although we should take pride in all this, and especially in the eight days of progress that we had at the end of a long, long congressional session, eight days of progress cannot make up for eight months of partisanship. That killed our plan to build and modernize 5,000 more schools. One hundred thousand teachers will enable us to take class size down to an average of 18 in the early grades, but we can't do it if the teachers don't have classrooms in which to meet the children.
It killed an increase in the minimum wage. It killed campaign finance reform. It killed the reform legislation to protect our children from the dangers of tobacco. It killed our chance to pass a real patients' bill of rights.
So I am proud of the 100,000 teachers, saving the surplus for Social Security, protecting the environment, keeping our economy going strong. But we have so much more to do. I hope that every American will go out and vote in the election a week from today. I hope they will vote for Social Security first, for a patients' bill of rights, for building and modernizing those 5,000 schools. I hope they will vote for progress over partisanship, for people over politics. You do that every day. And I thank you for it very much.
END 4:50 P.M. EST