View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 22, 1999
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                              JOE LOCKHART

                           The Briefing Room

1:05 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone.

Q Is it possible to do these two things simultaneously?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know, you tell me.

Q I'm not sure we're ready yet, Joe.

MR. LOCKHART: We're clearly not ready here. Is it possible to do the arrival while I'm still out here speaking?

Q No, not really.

MR. LOCKHART: Should we delay? Well, let me tell you what he's going to do and then we'll make a decision. I'm glad to do a democratic process here.

He'll get back roughly about 1:30 p.m. He'll get a briefing over in the residence from Sandy Berger. And then I expect him, before coming over to the Oval, to go back out to the South Portico and make a brief statement.

Q And that will be in the neighborhood of what, 2:00 p.m.?

MR. LOCKHART: Sometime probably just before 2:00 p.m.

Q On Kosovo?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, on Kosovo.

Q Will he have the results yet on reports from Holbrooke?

MR. LOCKHART: That's unknowable because the meeting is going on now. It starts at 1:30 p.m. So I don't expect that we'll have an answer. But he will have the latest update and he'll talk about, again, what the U.S. interests are in the region.

Q So if he's going to talk just about Kosovo, why don't we go ahead with your briefing now?

MR. LOCKHART: Okay. That makes sense? We'll go ahead now.

Q What do we know about Kosovo?

MR. LOCKHART: What do we know about Kosovo. Well, the President is coming back, he'll get the latest on the ground. Ambassador Holbrooke is in Belgrade and will speak to President - - Milosevic sometime within the hour. As I said this morning, he's bringing a stark choice for President Milosevic to make between a path that will bring peace and stability to the region, or a path that ultimately will bring more violence and bloodshed.

Q Any indication of which way it will go?

MR. LOCKHART: I think it's impossible to predict. We have some past history with President Milosevic, but it's unclear whether at this point what path he'll choose to take.

Q Is the President consulting other leaders, can you tell us about that?

MR. LOCKHART: He spent a good bit of time yesterday on the phone with Prime Minister Blair, President Chirac, Chancellor Schroeder, talking about next steps, talking about the purpose of Ambassador Holbrooke's visit and the choice that he'll be presenting to President Milosevic. He also sent a letter to President Yeltsin, which talked about the important work that we have done together in sending this message to President Milosevic and the purpose of sending Ambassador Holbrooke in at this late hour to present this stark choice to President Milosevic.

Q Well, Russia is also sending an envoy. Does this mean sort of a coordinated response now?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we have worked very closely and positively with the Russian government over the last weeks and months, in sending a clear and united message to President Milosevic that the international community will not tolerate further repression of the Kosovars, and that the path forward is the political settlement that was worked out and that the Kosovar Albanians have signed on to.

I think it's well-known that the Russians do not support any NATO action. And that's something that has been discussed. But ultimately NATO will have to act in what NATO's interests are.

Q Is there any indication that Primakov might change his schedule?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. I think he's scheduled to be here tomorrow evening. He's got a full day with the Gore-Primakov Commission on Wednesday. In addition, he has a separate meeting with the President.

Q Primakov said again today that Russia is unalterably opposed to NATO intervention. What would you say to him?

MR. LOCKHART: I'd repeat basically what I've just said, which is we've worked positively with the Russians in trying to get President Milosevic to the negotiating table and trying to get him to sign on to this political settlement. That to date has not worked. And NATO ultimately -- and the United States will ultimately have to act in what we believe our national interests are.

Q Is the timing at all somewhat awkward in that Primakov is coming here just as you may be about to take military action against --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure we're spending a lot of time worrying about the timing. There are very important U.S. national interests at stake here. There are probably tens of thousands of new refugees now with the deteriorating situation on the ground in Kosovo, and I think that is uppermost in our mind as we make decisions.

Q Last week there was talk about giving Milosevic a few days to think about his choice and this may be playing out over a period of a week or more. Is the deteriorating situation such that we're no longer talking about that time frame, but more imminent action?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me answer that a couple of ways. One is I'm not going to get into what our operational timetable is. Secondly, I certainly haven't spoken in any detail about what we'd be giving him for time. I think what's important here is there is a deteriorating situation on the ground; there are reports of fighting, villages and towns being burned, tens of thousands of new refugees heading back to the mountains, all of this bringing us closer to the humanitarian crisis we've been working very hard to avoid. But it is important, given the fact that there are Americans that we -- and soldiers that we're going to put in harm's way, that we exhaust all diplomatic and peaceful options. And that's what Ambassador Holbrooke's trip is about and that's -- his message will give quite a stark choice to President Milosevic.

Q I just want to make sure that I'm right about this, that Primakov's visit will not affect the decision-making process, NATO's decision-making process.

MR. LOCKHART: NATO will make decisions, and is making decisions, based on the interests of NATO. And we will move forward in a way that is not constrained by the timing of Prime Minister Primakov's visit.

Q Did the President share with any of the foreign leaders he spoke with yesterday his reaction to what was going on, on the ground, over the weekend?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's fair to say that we have become increasingly concerned with the situation on the ground. We've watched it very closely, as have our allies. And that was the subject of some discussion.

Q Could the situation on the ground prompt NATO to act?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we've been clear all along that it's a combination of his intransigence on signing a political settlement and further aggression.

Q Joe, how much thought has been given to what happens after the first military strike, if it comes to that? How long does the pressure remain on Milosevic? What do you do if he doesn't fold after the first strike?

MR. LOCKHART: I think quite a lot of thought has been given to what happens in the aftermath of a military strike, but I'm not going to get into a discussion of that because -- at risk of revealing the operational underpinnings of the strike.

Q I don't want to talk about operational underpinnings, I'm talking more about the political underpinnings. What is your approach to him? Obviously, you talk about his intransigence now. If he continues to be intransigent --

MR. LOCKHART: I think the message to him is that NATO will not stand by while the people of Kosovo are repressed, and that NATO -- the Alliance, the United States -- is firm in avoiding a humanitarian crisis, is firm in seeking to stop a progression of political instability that will harm our national interests, and is firm in making sure that President Milosevic cannot repress the people.

Q But the people of Kosovo have already been repressed, by any measure, enormously. I mean, they have been slaughtered.

MR. LOCKHART: If you look at the point where we were last fall, we made progress in reaching the agreement with President Milosevic. He's chosen now to violate some of the principles and actions of that agreement. And that is one of the reasons why NATO stands ready to act.

Q The question is, why haven't they acted, Joe?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we -- as the President told you on Friday, he believes that President Milosevic has crossed the threshold. We've taken a number of steps over the weekend, including removing the monitoring force, advising Americans not to travel and to leave Yugoslavia, withdrawing diplomatic personnel down to a core group in Belgrade. And we've also sent Ambassador Holbrooke to see if there is one remaining diplomatic effort to present him with these choices that can lead us to a peaceful conclusion.

Q Joe, four days ago the Commandant of the Marine Corps said that there are at least four questions that have not yet been answered: What's the end game? What happens if the Serbs don't come to the table when we bomb? How long will the strikes go on? And will our allies stay with us? Have you answered those questions to your satisfaction now?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if we move forward we will answer -- as well as questions are answerable -- we will answer questions before us.

Q Joe, some of those questions should be answerable now, in terms of how long you're willing to bomb and what happens if he doesn't say no. Certainly, you guys have thought that through.

MR. LOCKHART: Certainly. And I certainly think -- I can't think of something more counterproductive than to stand here, talk about this so President Milosevic can watch it on television. And I'm not going to do it.

Q What about American people watching on television who deserve answers to these questions?

MR. LOCKHART: They certainly do, and I think we've talked about our interests, we've talked about all of the steps we've taken to bring this to a peaceful solution. And we've talked about -- I think the President has and will continue to make the case for, if we need to move forward with a military strike, why we need to do that and what we're doing.

Q How about just one of the questions -- what happens if we bomb and the Serbs don't back out?

MR. LOCKHART: You're asking me a hypothetical, and I'm not going to get into what the operational details are in any bombing campaign.

Q You said a moment ago in response to a similar question that you're not going to allow him to do what he is clearly intent on doing. That it clearly suggests --

MR. LOCKHART: Again, yes, the purpose as we have said of a military strike is to attack and to degrade his ability to repress the people of Kosovo.

Q So it's not necessarily to get him to agree to have peacekeepers come in?

MR. LOCKHART: There's -- no, I think we've always said that if we move to -- clearly, the most advantageous option is to do this in a peaceful way at the negotiating table. We have come to a point where all possibilities there have been exhausted, save the conversation that Ambassador Holbrooke will have with President Milosevic. But we have also said all along that if we needed to take a military option, that the purpose of that was to deter and to degrade his ability to repress the Kosovar people.

Q But the threat of using force was to get him to agree to a peace agreement. The actual use of force now has a different goal, which is to prevent him from repressing the Kosovars.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the immediate goal is to degrade the ability to repress the Kosovar people. It is also fair to say that we ultimately want to get back to a political settlement, and the political agreement that at least the Kosovar Albanians have signed on to.

Q Are all the allies on board on this -- major allies?


Q Joe, will the debate in Congress affect the President's decision-making? And when he returns today does he plan to consult members of Congress?

MR. LOCKHART: The consultations with Congress are ongoing. I can't say specifically that there will be discussions today, but I expect sometime in the next day or so the President to reach out to members of Congress.

Q Will the President also reach out to the American people and give a nationwide address on this subject before deciding to --

MR. LOCKHART: Let's take this one day at a time. I think I've told you that he will discuss for you and, therefore, for the American people when he returns here the latest on the situation and what our interests are.

Q -- address to the American people --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not answering that question.

Q Are you expecting a letter back from Yeltsin?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of.

Q Did you try to call him?

MR. LOCKHART: No, he sent a letter.

Q On members of Congress, is it individual members or the leadership, or do you expect him to deal with the entire body --

MR. LOCKHART: I expect him to reach out to the leadership in some way. When I have more information on that I'll let you know.

Q Was he working the phones this morning? Did he call --

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.

Q How about yesterday at Camp David?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think I've detailed several calls that the President made. Again, he spoke to Chirac, Blair, Schroeder. He spoke to Sandy Berger innumerable times. He also on an unrelated matter had a conversation with President Mandela on the situation in Libya.

Q Can you tell us the reason for his trip to Camp David and what he did while he was there?

MR. LOCKHART: The reason for his trip to Camp David was for a day of rest and relaxation away from people like me.

Q Joe, the Defense appropriations bill that was signed into law stipulated that before the administration could deploy forces to Yugoslavia or any part of that area, the Balkans, eight questions would have to be answered by the President. Does he regard the NATO air strikes as required by these eight questions, or is that simply the presence of 4,000 peacekeepers as part of a NATO peacekeeping force?

MR. LOCKHART: I'll have to look into that. I'm not familiar with the English, so I'll look into it and come back to you.

Q A question on China. Does the President intend to -- or does the U.S. intend to sponsor a resolution on human rights in China at the U.N. Commission?

MR. LOCKHART: I expect a decision on that subject very shortly. The President's senior advisors are working on that subject. We are always looking for ways to be most effective to make our case on China and human rights, but I have no decision today.

Q Do you have anything to add to what the President said on Friday about reports that there were, indeed, Chinese espionage acts against U.S. during the Clinton administration? Has he looked into it further?

MR. LOCKHART: There are a series of reviews going on now, and I will report or the appropriate people will report when those are finished.

Q But, then, the question was more about whether the President was aware of such things, and he seemed to indicate that he could not quite remember, but might be mistaken. Has he refreshed his recollection --

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any new information that would change the position that he reflected in the news conference on Friday.

Q Joe, page one of The Washington Times reported that Chairman Helms' strong concern about $295,000 taxpayer dollars spent in training Haitian voodoo paramedics to give plugs for safe sex. Does the President approve of this expenditure, and is he aware of what's being reported on Worldnet daily?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm certainly not aware of it, so I would have to check into it. I didn't read the story.

Q It's on page one. They reported that the President, when he went to Haiti, had made contact with the voodoo people and had some arrangement, he made a promise.

Q It didn't work, did it? Didn't give any special money to him, did he?

Q He doesn't even know about this $295,000 for voodoo paramedics?

MR. LOCKHART: I, for some reason, can't remember the last conversation with the President about voodoo paramedics. (Laughter.) Give me a couple of days to refresh my memory.

Q Before the Gulf War, Bush talked a lot about what he thought Saddam's motivations were. Have you heard President Clinton talk about Milosevic and what he thinks of him personally and why he thinks he won't back down?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure. I don't want to prejudge the meeting that will start shortly with Ambassador Holbrooke. I think what we do know is from past experiences, this is someone who, when presented with a show of force, has backed down in the past and it's unfortunate that to date, we have not been able to work these issues out through diplomatic and peaceful means, and that's why it's important for NATO to stand united and stand strong in the face of further aggression and repression.

Q Does Clinton trust him?


Q Not at all?

MR. LOCKHART: Not at all.

Q Do you attribute his defiance in the face of the threat of force to mean that he's calling your bluff, he doesn't think you'll really bomb, or that he can withstand air strikes?

MR. LOCKHART: That is, from my perspective, something that I can't completely know, so it would be speculation that I'm not sure would be useful.

Q Once the immediate crisis in Kosovo has passed, do you expect General Shelton to reschedule is trip to China?

MR. LOCKHART: I expect that you should check with his office and see what his travel plans are.

Q Is it still firm U.S. policy that there will be no NATO ground troops in Kosovo, in anything other than a peaceful role?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the policy is that we have looked at NATO ground troops, including U.S. personnel, in a post-implementation, implementing the political settlement, and in a non-permissive environment.

Q So we don't foresee any --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry, in a permissive environment.

Q We don't foresee any circumstances where --

MR. LOCKHART: Just wanted to see if Colonel Crowley was still awake. (Laughter.) He is.

Q We don't foresee any circumstances where those NATO ground troops would have to fight their way into Kosovo?


Q But what if there is a downed U.S. pilot -- wouldn't the U.S. send ground forces in to try to capture that pilot?

MR. LOCKHART: You're asking me "what if" questions that I'm not going to answer.

Q Joe, can you clarify one of the President's answers from Friday, when he was asked this question about truth telling. And he said that the one occasion should be weighed against the hundreds or thousands where he had not abused the power of his office. Was he acknowledging that he abused the power of his office in the Lewinsky case?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if you look at the way that he misled the American public, he acknowledged there, and particularly in some of his public statements he made, that -- I mean, as President, misled the American public and it's something that he deeply regrets.

Q To follow up on that, Joe, was he acknowledging also that he lied under oath?

MR. LOCKHART: No, he wasn't.

Q Joe, the Republicans continue to mention that the President lied to them when he told them that the troops would only be in Bosnia for one year. Does the President now regret having made that statement, and will he refrain from doing similar things?

MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look closely at what the President said just on Friday, I mean, you'll understand his position. The President did not lie to Congress. The President does believe that, now, and has said as we look at Kosovo and any potential post-implementation force, that it's unrealistic to put a firm timetable like the one that was done in Bosnia on the force. And I think you'll see as you look back on how we've talked about any force in Kosovo, that there isn't that kind of date certain for the end of a mission.

Q Is that a tacit admission that it was a mistake to put that firm timetable on Bosnia?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there's anything tacit about it. I think the President spoke to as we look back and we learn that the most useful thing is not always to put a date certain on the end of a mission, and that's one of the things we've learned from Bosnia.

Q Joe, when the President was in Texarkana, there were reports that protestors carrying signs, "Impeach him again," and "There's a pervert in our neighborhood," were forced by the Secret Service to the rear of the hotel because Sidney Blumenthal called them malcontents and crazies. Is there any truth to this?


Q They were not?

MR. LOCKHART: They may very well be malcontents and crazies. Sidney may very well believe that. But was Sidney anywhere near this trip? Sidney was here in Washington. So I know the long hand of Sidney Blumenthal extends many places, but not to Texarkana. And the one point that I would point out to you is --

Q Here's my question.

MR. LOCKHART: No, the one point that I would point out to you, by whatever reason people were put in -- because as you all know, whenever there are protestors they're put in an area that normally local enforcement and Secret Service work out. And as I understand this trip, it was put in a position such that it was right next to where we put the pool so that it was very advantageous to get good pictures of it. So your Secret Service always working for you.

He's here, so I'm going to go. Bye.

END 1:30 P.M. EST