THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
3:19 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry to be so late. Let me do what I've done the last couple of days, give you a brief update and then I'll get to your questions.
As you all know from the previous briefings today, the air campaign continues. Last night, NATO flew over 400 sorties against 28 fixed-target areas. Good weather allowed NATO pilots to hit Serb troops in the field with A-10 and British Harriers, ammunition dumps and ammunition production facilities and various other military facilities. The USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Air Wing of F-A18s and F-14s entered the fray last night, for the first time.
On the humanitarian front, there are now over 430,000 people displaced from Kosovo since March 24th, according to UNHCR. Over 3.7 million in United States government resources previously programmed for the relief effort in Kosovo have now been redirected for relief efforts in Macedonia. USAID has also provided over $1.2 million in commodities. These commodities include 700 boxes of plastic sheathing that can shelter 7,000 additional families; 1,000 tents, which house about eight people each; 20,000 hygiene kits; 54,000 blankets; and four water bladders holding 10,000 liters of water each, which can provide a minimum water requirement of per person, per day for 2,500 people.
As the President made clear again today, President Milosevic knows what he needs to do to stop this campaign -- stop the fighting and pull out his military, paramilitary forces; allow the safe return of refugees, agree to a multiethnic, democratic Kosovo and an international implementation force to secure the peace. The bombing will continue until those objectives are met.
Q Joe, could I just follow up --
Q What do you hear about the postponement of the Cypriot mission to Belgrade?
MR. LOCKHART: Our understanding from our diplomat, through our diplomatic channels is that mission will go forward tomorrow.
Q Does the United States know with certainty what happened to those 30,000 Kosovars that apparently disappeared from the border? What does it mean?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't tell you with ultimate certainty, but what we believe has happened is the Serb authorities have closed the borders and have forced refugees to return into Kosovo. Exactly where, I can't tell you.
Q That's good, isn't it? I mean, we were complaining that they were trying to force them out of Kosovo. If they allow them to return, aren't we for that?
MR. LOCKHART: We have certainly noticed what has gone on and we have -- the ethnic cleansing that's gone on that's led to the 430,000 that we've talked about displaced people was a brutal act by Milosevic and the Serbs. I would not view, though, as necessarily good the fact that he's now closed the border and is forcing people back in.
MR. LOCKHART: Because we know what he's done to some of these people.
Q But aren't these small gestures that he's making?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't necessarily view this as a small gesture at all. This is a regime that has gone in and brutally murdered thousands of people. This is a regime that has gone in and rampaged through towns, through extortion, murder, rape. These are all things that we know this regime has done and is capable of. And we don't know what his plans are for these people, but we know what he's done to them in the past, so I don't know I'd look at this as a positive.
Q The fact that they've been forced back in to be slaughtered or murdered or dealt harshly with, hadn't NATO better get on with trying to get in there and save them? Is that the mission?
MR. LOCKHART: I said I don't know what his plans are for them and NATO is getting on with what NATO's getting on with.
Q Joe, you spoke a minute ago of ethnic cleansing, you spoke in the past tense, "this was" a brutal campaign.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think it's over. I don't mean to imply in any way that the campaign that Milosevic and his forces have waged is over.
Q Do we see evidence on the ground of a Serb cease-fire in Kosovo yet?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there is still evidence of some military activity. Whether there was a complete cease-fire or not, the announcement that the Serbs made yesterday is clearly not sufficient to meet the demands of the NATO Alliance.
Q Do we see any evidence of Serb forces withdrawing yet from Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any evidence.
Q Joe, the President, when he was outlining the conditions for a stop to the NATO offensive, the NATO air strikes, he spoke of a need for Yugoslavia to withdraw its forces, to let the refugees return and to permit the deployment of an international security force. No mention of the essence or framework of the Rambouillet agreements. Is that agreement dead now?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you listened to what the President said, that takes in part of the essence of the Rambouillet peace agreement, the basic elements of that are not dead; that there needs to be a democratic, multiethnic Kosovo; that there needs to be a post-implementation force to provide security.
Q Why wouldn't he mention it, since he mentioned it yesterday, the day before?
MR. LOCKHART: He mentioned it yesterday, the day before -- he will probably mention it tomorrow. It is no change in our policy.
Q If Rambouillet were to continue, then NATO would be negotiating with somebody who's been branded a war criminal. Is that possible? Can you do that?
MR. LOCKHART: We have a military objective now, which is to bring President Milosevic to meet these conditions that we've laid out, or take away his ability to impose his will on Kosovo. That's the objective that we're trying to reach; that's the objective that NATO forces go after every day.
Q Does a multiethnic, democratic Kosovo still mean an autonomous Kosovo within Yugoslavia?
MR. LOCKHART: It means an area where the autonomy and self-rule and democracy is restored that was stripped away in 1989.
Q Within Yugoslavia?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Joe, the President has also now, for the last couple days, three days, has been talking about an international security force that would go into Kosovo. He used to talk about a NATO force or a NATO-led force. Why now talk of an international security force?
MR. LOCKHART: Our policy is still that this would be a NATO-led force. But I think as we've talked about in the past, if you look at Bosnia, that is a NATO-led force that was open to other countries participating in peacekeeping activities. We've said from the beginning that if there were other countries that were willing to participate, that we would consider that. But the international-led force is still a NATO-led force.
Q Can I follow up on that? Specifically, the Russian involvement, potentially -- Russians are involved in Bosnia. Did Vice President Gore ask the Russian Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, to intervene once again with the Yugoslav government to try to end this crisis?
MR. LOCKHART: No. The Vice President spoke, as I said yesterday, to Prime Minister Primakov. He reiterated the points that we've made on a variety of levels in the government, that our message is clear and if they could -- if that was a message they could take to Belgrade, they should. But he made no effort to ask them to engage in a new initiative.
Q Any change in the President's policy on the use of ground troops -- potential use of ground troops?
MR. LOCKHART: No. None.
Q Did you say no?
MR. LOCKHART: None. No change.
Q Do we believe that the government of Cyprus is close to negotiating the release of those three American POWs?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no way of knowing whether they're close or not. I understand that they will undertake an effort tomorrow. And as we have told them, as we've told you, that we believe that there was no basis for taking these soldiers, there's no basis for holding these soldiers, and any third party that can proceed with an effort to have them released would be welcome.
Q Do you have some indication as to whether you think this is likely or unlikely? I understand that the U.S. government is that they've made the arrangement to get a plane to Belgrade. So, I mean, obviously, we're in contact with the government.
MR. LOCKHART: I've so stated earlier in this briefing that we are in diplomatic conversations, but I cannot handicap in advance what President Milosevic will decide to do.
Q Would Milosevic be making a mistake to assume that if those three soldiers are released, that the United States would take that as a sign that the hostilities were drawing down and that he would be willing to talk?
MR. LOCKHART: I think President Milosevic would be making a mistake to believe that anything that doesn't meet the demands laid out by the NATO Alliance would bring an end to these hostilities.
Q The Cypriot Acting President said that there might be some conditions in this release of the soldiers and said the United States -- or NATO should stop the bombing. Is the United States willing to entertain any sort of concession or --
MR. LOCKHART: The NATO bombing will continue until the military objectives are met. These soldiers -- there is no basis for them being taken, there's no basis for being released -- they should be released without conditions.
Q Do you have any idea of the timetable for the Apaches to get over there? There's now some talk that we don't have the airlift capacity to both do the humanitarian airlift and the Apache --
MR. LOCKHART: I'll leave that question for the Pentagon to answer.
Q Joe, how close are we to getting a WTO agreement in advance of the Premier's visit?
MR. LOCKHART: I think with any trade agreement, it's impossible to really answer that question with any certainty because with any trade agreement, you don't have a deal until you have everything agreed to. And we don't have everything agreed to, so we are going to continue to work and to negotiate. We've made substantial progress, but we are not willing to enter into a deal that is not on the terms that we believe are in our national interest.
Q How much remains to be done?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you had some people in here earlier who gave you a more detailed briefing. But we've made some progress on some things as agriculture, but there remains some significant gaps.
Q It would be possible, however, to wrap this up by tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: Like I said, I think it's impossible to predict with any certainty in a negotiation when nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.
Q Joe, there was a report this morning that suggested that this Kosovo thing is "Albright's war," and that the Secretary of State had miscalculated on the effect of NATO bombing. Is there any legitimacy to that, or is that just a Washington blame game?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I think I'd just put it in a pile that's growing steadily of inaccurate reports. I think the President and his national security team have been united in moving forward this campaign. I don't think there was anyone under any illusions that this would be quick or easy. The President laid out the conditions that when he spoke to the nation, that part of this was an attempt to deter Milosevic and, if that didn't work, if necessary, wear him down to the point where he would agree to the demands the NATO Alliance has put forward.
And that is a view that has been shared throughout the President's foreign policy team. So I would just say that the story is not accurate.
Q Joe, does the President play any role in selecting the targets for air strikes? Does he go over lists of potential targets?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the targets are selected by the NATO military planners. I think all of the various commanders throughout the Alliance have the ability to have input. But they're chosen by the Supreme Allied Commander.
Q Does he veto specific targets and recommend targets?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into operational detail beyond saying that the Supreme Allied Commander chooses the targets.
Q What about those two offices, those buildings in central Belgrade, the Ministry of Interior for the Federal Republic and for the Serbian Province? Did the President specifically authorize -- was he asked whether the NATO air strikes should target those two buildings?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into operational details.
Q It's not operational detail.
MR. LOCKHART: If that isn't, then I don't know what is.
Q What was the purpose today of naming the nine Serb commanders as potential war criminals or responsible for the ongoing war crimes?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think Mr. Rubin at the State Department was clear in saying that while we're not indicating we have gathered the necessary evidence that each of them is a war criminal based on what the War Crimes Tribunal would need to prosecute a case, we want them to know that we are using every available method we know to gather evidence and that they should be on notice.
There is no statute of limitations on war crimes and the nine commanders who are implementing the war plan of President Milosevic, which has included ethnic cleansing and brutal atrocities, should be on notice that the world is watching.
Q My question is, what do you hope to accomplish by publicly naming them?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think what we hope to accomplish is to put them on notice and let them know we're watching, and if any of them are having any second thoughts this might help them come to a different conclusion.
Q Have you put President Milosevic on the same notice?
MR. LOCKHART: I think from comments made from various podiums around this town, he should know that he's on notice.
Q Your refusal to answer the President's question about his role -- it appears to me to be a political detail, not an operational detail. You've said NATO commanders select the targets?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Well, what's the difference between that detail and whether the President of the United States approves them?
MR. LOCKHART: You've asked me about particular targets and I'm not going to talk about them.
Q I have not. Someone else may have.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, ask your question.
Q The question was whether the President approves or vetoes selected targets.
MR. LOCKHART: And my answer to the question previously, several questions ago is, NATO countries have the ability to be involved in this process, but the targets are chosen by the NATO Supreme Allied Commander.
Q You know one of the reasons the question is asked is because of Lyndon Johnson having done that during the Vietnam War, personally selecting and approving and vetoing military targets, versus George Bush's hands-off policy in the Gulf War. We want to know what the President's policy is.
MR. LOCKHART: I will leave that for everyone who has enough time to go through every piece that's written in every newspaper.
Q That's why we're asking for the facts.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. I've answered that as well as I plan to.
Q Back to the list. Presumably, the crimes that have allegedly been committed by these nine people have been committed. And so what is the purpose of --
MR. LOCKHART: I didn't say -- I wouldn't say that.
Q -- telling them we're watching?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't concede the point that operations don't continue, that atrocities don't continue, and that the activity in Kosovo hasn't been completed.
Q Is this an effort to try to build some dissention or to stir dissention?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that as the commanders of the Yugoslav forces look at what they do from day to day, they need to understand that there are consequences at the end of this, and that the international community has a long memory and has the ability to gather evidence, and as they move forward, they should keep in the back of their mind that there may be consequences for them when this is over.
Q Joe, what I don't understand about this is that there's now been several days in which they've forced out, as you've pointed out, more than 400,000 people. Why wasn't this kind of warning and this kind of detail issued before now?
MR. LOCKHART: Because we have talked about our intention of using all national technical means to provide evidence to the War Crimes Tribunal. We thought it was time to bring forward a more explicit message, and it was a message that was discussed widely within the Alliance and has been issued from various capitals.
Q What was it that prompted -- what's happening now that prompted a more explicit message?
MR. LOCKHART: We thought today it was important to be more explicit.
Q The campaign is now entering its third week as of this evening. Are you yet able to say that it is succeeding? Can you point to anything that says it's --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Pentagon did an excellent briefing today that told you about the latest -- what the campaign today has accomplished.
Q How about diplomatically?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to leave it to them.
Q -- your overall judgment --
MR. LOCKHART: If you watched the Pentagon briefing today, you will have heard the latest, and I'm going to leave it there.
Q Joe, you start with a blow-by-blow every day of sort the list of how many sorties were flown and how many targets were hit? You clearly seem to be suggesting to us that we're finally making an impact.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that I'd use quite those words, but as I've done over the last few days, I'd suggest that better weather has improved what's going on in the field.
Q Do you know the results of the meeting of the Contact Group today in Brussels? And what is the purpose of the meetings which will take place tomorrow and Friday and Monday at NATO?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there are a series of meetings that have been ongoing. Secretary Cohen is there now, the NATO Foreign Ministers will be there on Monday. We continue as an alliance of 19 nations to remain in discussion and remain talking about continuing to keep this air campaign on and continue to keep the pressure on. As far as any results coming out of today's political directors meeting in the Contact Group, I haven't heard anything specific.
Q Is there any diplomatic overture underway now that you're aware of to stop this?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any. I know President Milosevic knows what he needs to do, and we're waiting to find out if he'll make the decision to do what he needs to do to stop this hostility.
Q But there's no back channel? Nobody's talking? It's all just fighting right now?
MR. LOCKHART: Right now, what I'm aware of is the NATO military campaign continues.
Q Back to Albright for a second. Does the President still have full confidence in the advice he's getting from Secretary Albright and in her conduct of diplomacy?
MR. LOCKHART: The President gets advice on national security and foreign policy from a wide group of people. The President believes very strongly that this group is united in moving forward with this military campaign and very much has confidence in every single member of that team.
Q When you said a moment ago that today you chose to send an explicit message, are you referring to the President's spelling out of what Milosevic had to do?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I was referring to the statement that Mr. Rubin read at the top of his briefing.
Q I missed the briefing.
MR. LOCKHART: Naming the nine Serb commanders.
Q Can I follow up? If we allege that atrocities and war crimes are being and have been committed by Serb forces in Kosovo and that Milosevic is the person who is commanding, ultimately, those forces, would it be right for an American negotiator now to sit down with Milosevic and try to cut some deal for a --
MR. LOCKHART: What I can tell you is, as I've told you before, this gets harder every day. But I'm not going to try to see into the future and rule anything in or rule anything out.
Q I guess today, since you did send this explicit message, it bears asking again -- we're now saying, you nine commanders, you're on notice, we think either you've committed war crimes or your forces have committed war crimes -- why wouldn't the same message apply to the person who is commanding those forces?
MR. LOCKHART: The same message does apply. And as we've said over and over again, as this continues, dealing with him gets harder.
Q But it's not off the table yet?
MR. LOCKHART: Dealing with him gets harder.
Q Why was today a good time to send an explicit message?
MR. LOCKHART: In the judgment of our team and in the judgment of the teams that we work with within the Alliance, today was the appropriate day to issue this warning.
Q Joe, is there any credibility on the matter of war crimes prosecution when, after the war in the Gulf, Saddam Hussein and his commanders escaped prosecution for war crimes, even though the U.S. government at the time said that was something it would pursue but never did?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look at another example, there are certainly work going on within Europe in the context of Bosnia, and I think there is credibility, and we will use whatever means we can to make sure that evidence is made available to the War Crimes Tribunal.
Q When you say that dealing with him -- meaning Milosevic -- gets harder, you're implying that at some point it will become impossible. When? What does he have to do, what more does he have to do?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to spell out a timetable or what he has to do.
Q But you're still willing to talk to him?
Q Is Milosevic a target of the bombing?
MR. LOCKHART: No, we have military objectives which I have laid out, which I think are quite clear.
Q You're still willing to talk to Milosevic, then?
MR. LOCKHART: I have made it as clear as I can that he has -- the NATO Alliance has made demands and he needs to meet them. As far as talking to him in particular, as far as dealing with him, this gets harder and harder.
Q So does that mean someone else would have to do it for you?
Q Going back to Milosevic as a target, when the United States was bombing Iraq, palaces were bombed. Is there a possibility that Milosevic's palace will be bombed? Are there restricted sites --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into what the military targets are.
Q Are there any restricted sites?
MR. LOCKHART: There are no sites that have been placed off limits if they have military value.
Q The Russian Duma passed a nonbinding resolution talking about sending weapons and troops to help the Yugoslavs to help the Serb forces.
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen the resolution. I think as we've told you, President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Primakov have made explicit statements about their not getting involved in this conflict and that would be the right course of action.
Q So we don't think the Russians are going to get involved in any dramatic, aggressive way?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President and the Prime Minister have made it clear they do not plan to get involved.
Q Have we warned Russia against sending any information from the spy ship in that region to Serbia?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Russians fully understand what our position is in this conflict.
Q Joe, for the first time Western reporters have been allowed back into Pristina, into Kosovo since the bombs started to fall. Is that seen by the White House as a positive sign that the Yugoslav authorities are now letting reporters into Kosovo to see what is out there?
MR. LOCKHART: I would take with a grain of salt anything the Yugoslav authorities want you to see and want you to broadcast.
Q Do you think that they're concealing things or just --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think they're concealing things, Wolf, we know they're concealing things. This is a regime that has claimed with a straight face that they haven't forced a single person out of Kosovo, that they haven't killed a single person, that they haven't ransacked a single village. So I wouldn't take anything they say without some skepticism.
Q Joe, what specifically is it that you want these nine commanders who are named today to do? Do you want them to revolt, to defect? What is it specifically --
MR. LOCKHART: We want them to think about the consequences of their actions.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:43 P.M. EDT