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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 27, 1999
                             TO THE NATION

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Three days ago I decided the United States should join our NATO allies in military air strikes to bring peace to Kosovo. In my address to the nation last Wednesday, I explained why we have taken this step -- to save the lives of innocent civilians in Kosovo from a brutal military offensive; to defuse a powder keg at the heart of Europe that has exploded twice before in this century with catastrophic results; to prevent a wider war we would have to confront later, only at far greater risk and cost; to stand with our NATO allies for peace.

Our military operation has been underway for several nights now. In this time, Serb troops have continued attacks on unarmed men, women and children. That is all the more reason for us to stay the course. We must, and we will, continue until Serbia's leader, Slobodan Milosevic, accepts peace or we have seriously damaged his capacity to make war.

As always, America's military men and women are performing with courage and skill. Their strength comes from rigorous training, state of the art weaponry and hard-won experience in this part of the world. This is the same brave and tested force that brought stability to Bosnia after four years of vicious war. I am confident they will once again rise to the task.

Some of them are fighter pilots, some are bombers, some are mechanics, technicians, air traffic controllers and base personnel. Every time I visit our troops around the world I am struck by their professionalism, their quiet, unassuming determination. They always say, this is the job I was trained to do. They don't see themselves as heroes, but we surely do.

I've also been deeply impressed by the solidarity of NATO's purpose. All 19 NATO nations are providing support, from Norway to Turkey, from England to Italy, from Germany and France to our neighbors in Canada, including our three allies from Central Europe, the new NATO members: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic.

And we should remember the courage of the Kosovar people today, still exposed to violence and brutality. Many Americans, now, have heard the story of a young Kosovar girl trying to stay in touch with a friend in America by e-mail, as a Serb attack began in her own village. Just a few days ago she wrote, "at the moment, just from my balcony, I can see people running with suitcases, and I can hear some gunshots. A village just a few hundred meters from my house is all surrounded. As long as I have electricity, I will continue writing to you. I'm trying to keep myself as calm as possible. My younger brother, who is nine, is sleeping now. I wish I will not have to stop his dreams."

We asked these people of Kosovo to accept peace, and they did. We promised them we would stick by them if they did the right thing, and they did. We cannot let them down now.

Americans have learned the hard way that our home is not that far from Europe. Through two World Wars and a long Cold War, we saw that it was a short step from a small brushfire to an inferno, especially in the tinderbox of the Balkans. The time to put out a fire is before it spreads and burns down the neighborhood. By acting now, we're taking a strong step toward a goal that has always been in our national interest -- a peaceful, united, democratic Europe. For America there is no greater calling than being a peacemaker. But sometimes you have to fight in order to end the fighting.

Let me end now by repeating how proud all Americans are of the men and women in uniform risking their lives to protect peace in the Balkans. Our prayers are with them. And our prayers are with all the people of the Balkans searching for the strength to put centuries of divisions to rest, and to join Europe and North America in building a better future together.

Thanks for listening.