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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 13, 1999


The Rose Garden

1:45 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I have just had a long and very good meeting with a large number of members of Congress to discuss America's effort, along with our NATO allies, to stand against ethnic cleansing, save lives, and bring peace in Kosovo. I'm grateful for the support we have received from members of Congress from both parties, and also very grateful for the questions, the comments, the advice that came out of this and previous meetings.

Our objectives here are clear, but I want to restate them. We want the Serb forces out of Kosovo. We want the refugees to be able to go home, protected by an international security force, as they work toward self-government.

This is Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day let us resolve not to let this ethnic cleansing and killing by Mr. Milosevic go unanswered.

You know, yesterday I had the privilege of meeting at Barksdale Air Force Base with air crews participating in the allied campaign. They and all our forces are performing with extraordinary courage and skill. They are very well prepared, and their morale is high. They know they and our allies are fighting to end human suffering, and for a Europe that is united, democratic and at peace.

Our campaign is diminishing and grinding down Mr. Milosevic's military capabilities. We have weakened Serbia's air defenses and command and control. We have reduced his ability to move, sustain and supply the war machine in Kosovo. We have damaged his refineries and diminished his capacity to produce ammunition. We are striking now at his tanks, and at his artillery, and have destroyed half his advanced MiG-29 aircraft.

Now we are taking our allied air campaign to the next level, with more aircraft in the region, with a British carrier joining our USS Roosevelt and a French carrier in the area. Our humanitarian effort is also increasing to meet the daunting challenge of providing food and shelter for the hundreds of thousands of refugees.

All of us would like the conflict to end, especially for the suffering people of Kosovo. We would also like to end the trials for the people of Serbia, who have been forced into confrontation by a cynical leader who has no regard for their welfare and who, I am absolutely convinced, has not even told them the truth about what he has done to the people of Kosovo.

We and our allies did everything possible to end this crisis peacefully, but now we are at arms. We and our allies are united on this point: we must stay the course and persist until we prevail.

Again I say, Mr. Milosevic can end this crisis right now -- by withdrawing his forces, permitting deployment of an international security force, and allowing the unconditional return of all displaced persons.

As I told the members of Congress today, I will shortly submit to them an emergency supplemental budget request to fund our military operations and munitions needs while maintaining our military readiness; to provide urgently needed assistance to the frontline states, nations bordering Kosovo, that are struggling to preserve their own stability as they cope with refugees and turmoil in the region; and of course, to fund our portion of caring for the hundreds of thousands of refugees.

These expenses are an immediate and urgent emergency. They are necessary so that we and our NATO allies can continue to pursue this mission. I look forward to working with members of both parties in both Houses to pass this appropriation soon, and to continuing our mission to free the people of Kosovo of the oppression to which they have been subject, and meet the conditions which I have outlined.

Thank you very much.

Q Mr. President, the lawmakers said that you haven't taken ground troops off the table.

Q Mr. President, can you reach the refugees in Kosovo, Mr. President -- inside Kosovo -- can you reach those refugees, and does it have to be done by land?

THE PRESIDENT: Let me answer that. The real answer to that question is that it is a very hard one and we are working on it. We are quite concerned about the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Kosovo. The ones that are out of Kosovo, there is a big problem in providing food and housing and medical care, dealing with the ones that are just dehydrated. But at least we are now organized and we're moving on that.

There is a much bigger problem with the people within Kosovo, and there are any number of problems with providing aid from the air. First of all, there is the possibility that if we airdrop supplies, they won't actually get to the refugees, that the Serbian forces will take them up. Secondly, there is the problem of risk to our aircraft of going into Kosovo airspace to try to air-drop the supplies. So we are looking at both of those problems and what can be done about them, and what other options we have.

It is a huge problem. For the last couple of days, we've been working very hard on it. As soon as we have more to say on it, I'll be glad to make the appropriate announcements and our people will be at work on it. It is a very large problem. We're aware of it. We know what the obstacles are and we're doing our best to overcome them.

Thank you.

END 1:52 P.M. EDT