THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (San Francisco, California) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 15, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER The Fairmont Hotel San Francisco, California
1:28 P.M. PDT
COLONEL CROWLEY: Good afternoon. To follow up on the President's address regarding Kosovo today and catch you up on any other questions on current events, we have the National Security Advisor, Samuel R. Berger.
MR. BERGER: PJ said I should only take three questions, but I'm not running for anything so, come at it. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. Berger, does NATO have any solid idea of how many civilians were killed in the convoy?
MR. BERGER: I don't believe it has any definitive numbers, no.
Q Do you know if the pilot was an American?
MR. BERGER: I don't think we've confirmed the identity of the pilot.
Q A couple of days ago the President said in the Rose Garden that within a couple of days there would be a plan to help the refugees who were in Kosovo. Today he seemed to indicate a despair of being able to help them before a cessation of the conflict. Is there any plan to -- we can't airlift and we're not going to go in on the ground to help them; what can we do?
MR. BERGER: Well, there are a number of things that are happening. First of all, some of the refugees are now leaving. Under normal circumstances I suppose that would be unfortunate; under these circumstances it's probably fortunate. So there has been over the last few days additional departures of refugees being driven out, even as Milosevic continues to, and his forces continues to burn villages, continues to drive people out of their homes.
In terms of getting relief supplies to these folks, let's remember first and foremost the issue here, and that is that Mr. Milosevic denies access to relief organizations to these people, in total contravention of any principle of conflict or decency. These international relief organizations are not a threat to any of his objectives. This is a totally cynical effort on his part, obviously, to continue to cause the misfortune of the Kosovars.
NATO is working very hard on a number of avenues to try to get relief supplies to these people. And we'll continue to work on those involving third countries and other avenues until we can succeed. I don't think it would serve any particular purpose to describe them.
Q Mr. Berger, today, testifying before the Senate, Secretary Cohen said that if we're not able to force Milosevic to back out, that the balance of power will shift against him at a time when his actions are galvanizing the opposition, referring to the KLA. The President today seemed to suggest that the idea would be that the KLA would then, essentially, prevail of win. And, yet, the President said today he does not want an independent Kosovo, which is the KLA goal. How do we square that?
MR. BERGER: Well, there are two possible outcomes to this conflict. We've said very clearly what NATO's goals are -- number one, to see the Serb forces leave; number two, to see the Kosovars come back home; and, number three, to have an international security force to protect them.
Militarily, we will continue to pound away at his military regime until one of two things happen -- either he recognizes the mounting costs here, which are only going to intensify, and realizes that acquiescence or acceptance to the international community's conditions is the more sensible course of action. But if he doesn't, we will continue to degrade his forces in Kosovo, destroy as much of them as we can so that he will lose his ability to control things on the ground in Kosovo.
Now, at the same time, what's happening? There are in those refugee camps obviously angry and bitter people. KLA forces who have not -- although have been disrupted by this, have not been diminished in significant numbers, in fact, probably are in greater numbers today than they were before which only makes sense.
And so I think what Secretary Cohen, what the President is describing is a simple reality Milosevic faces. I mean, either he agrees to a circumstance in which an international force can come in, Kosovo is an internationally protected area, but within the sovereignty of Serbia; or his forces will be reduced to the point where he cannot control events on the ground and it is inevitable that he will face a more and more serious insurgency.
Q Even if the KLA should win, the United States is opposed to an independent Kosovo?
MR. BERGER: Well, I'm not going to speculate on -- the President has expressed our view here, our preference that Kosovo should be a part of Serbia, but should be autonomous and have self-government. And we believe the best way for that to happen is for us to continue this air campaign and for Mr. Milosevic to accept the reality of the situation and agree to those conditions. That's our objective. I'm not going to speculate about --
Q But is it a preference or an insistence?
MR. BERGER: We do not support an independent KLA. If Mr. Milosevic continues and persists in this long enough, he is going to create a stronger and stronger resistance against himself.
Q -- that serious insurgency, though, Sandy, the you described?
MR. BERGER: Right now we have a policy, a plan, and an objective. And I'm not going to talk about what-ifs. We believe it will succeed. And that is to continue an air campaign, to intensify it, to continue to destroy as much as we can his military machine and all associated systems of support to the point in which he recognizes that the conditions of the international community are better than the alternative.
Q The President made a couple of references to human shields during his speech. Does the U.S. or NATO have any evidence that the convoy that came under attack yesterday, there was some sort of human shield going on there? Or do you have other examples of their use of human shields in --
MR. BERGER: I don't have much to add to what you already know about the incident yesterday, although I think what the President said today -- first of all, clearly, it is clearly true that we have seen situations in which Serbian forces in Kosovo have used civilians to protect their military resources, assets, and movements. There is no question about that.
But I think we have to again focus on what the President said. Obviously, it's always regrettable when there are civilian casualties, but we have to again recognize what this is -- what's going on here. We saw the systematic expulsion of hundreds of thousands, if not over a million people from Kosovo, with the most despicable brutality in perhaps our lifetime. NATO has decided to act, act in a forceful way. Mr. Milosevic has decided that civilians are simply objects and victims.
Under these circumstances, it is inevitable that there are going to be incidents like this. Obviously, we take all measures, NATO has taken serious and continuing measures to minimize and reduce civilian casualties. But I think that it is inevitable that this is going to happen, and it simply cannot deter us from our course.
Q Do you have evidence that these specific civilians were being used as human shields?
MR. BERGER: I said I don't have anything more to add to the body of knowledge that you have from NATO and others, and from the pilot and others in terms of what he believed and saw.
Q -- with the convoy --
MR. BERGER: Let me just say this. I'm certain that he believed and did his best to -- he believed that he was striking a military target and did he best to avoid civilian casualties.
We've had more than 5,000 sorties -- that was as of two days ago, I don't know what the count is today -- more than 5,000 sorties. We've done that with one plane shot down and with a striking lack of civilian casualties, which shows the extent to which NATO has gone to avoid this. But when you have a man like Milosevic, who uses civilians as pawns, it is difficult to avoid. And if you go to such measures as to reduce the risk to zero, you obviously cannot accomplish the mission.
Q Has the convoy incident affected the NATO alliance?
MR. BERGER: No.
Q Sandy, when the President called for the need for a democratic transition in Serbia, was he saying he would welcome the overthrow of the Milosevic regime?
MR. BERGER: We have said for some time -- in fact, we have worked for some time to support a democratic Serbia. I think what the President said today clearly is true, which is that it's hard to imagine a truly stable region until you have democracy in Serbia. We've supported opposition groups. We've supported opposition media. Yesterday, one of the prominent opposition editors was murdered as he walked up the steps of, I believe, his office building. And we will continue and intensify that, both during and, if necessary, subsequent to this.
Q But the President talked about the need for Americans to look at this as a long-term commitment. And I wondered what that long-term means? Does that mean we should expect to have U.S. forces there either in combat or as security forces, say, through the rest of the President's term in office?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think there's two different concepts here, which is the military conflict and, second of all, what the President was talking about today is rebuilding the region, rebuilding the Balkans, trying to bring to this, in a sense, last region of Europe, some degree of stability and democracy.
I think with respect to the first, we've never put a deadline on it. We've said that it will require a sustained effort, a sustained and intensifying effort. We're prepared to take as long as it's needed and I see no indications on the part of the allies that they don't see that similarly. I'm not going to in any way try to suggest how long that will be. We will keep pounding away.
In terms of the second, I mean, that's obviously inherently a long-term enterprise. The EU yesterday at its meeting spoke to this issue, about rebuilding Southeastern Europe and the Balkans, committed a very substantial effort to that. And so that effort, obviously, will carry on for years.
Q Well, is it possible, once you think about both those things, the military effort and the rebuilding effort, that U.S. forces won't be there for the rest of President Clinton's term. Doesn't it seem inevitable they will be, one way or the other?
MR. BERGER: Certainly, it's possible.
Q Sandy, I'm going to switch it a little bit. Why hasn't NATO and the United States taken a similar position on the genocide that has occurred in Rwanda?
MR. BERGER: Well, the genocide in Rwanda was a horrible --
MR. BERGER: -- despicable -- I can think of my adjectives myself, but I appreciate --
Q Yes, despicable on the -- the word "despicable" situation in the Balkans. So it's the same thing in Rwanda.
MR. BERGER: I'll take any more adjectives you give me. I'll stipulate to your adjectives.
This happened, as you know, very swiftly. This happened in a two-week period. And the President has reflected when he was in Kigali and since -- in fact, just the other night at the Millennium Lecture with Elie Wiesel -- on whether the international community could have done more, more quickly. And he's asked his NSC and others to look at that question very hard.
Part of it is capacity. I mean, one of the reasons why we can act in Kosovo is because we have NATO there, present, able to act, and within NATO's range of authority, range of interest. We didn't have a similar institution in the Great Lakes region. We've tried to, since then, to build some institutions along those lines. We're working very hard, as you know, on the African Crisis Response Initiative so that there will be an African capability to respond. We've trained African armies in a number of countries and are doing that now, in this kind of peacekeeping and crisis prevention.
But we continue to look at the question you raise as to whether in that situation there was more that could have been done sooner. I think part of it again goes to the capability to act swiftly.
Q Returning to the refugee convoy for a moment -- General Clark has said from the outset that an air campaign is not the way you would choose to try to stop ethnic cleansing. You folks have said that. So when you look at this error, as President Clinton said today, is part of the problem that we're using the wrong tools?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think General Clark recommended this plan of action, which in large measure he is the architect of, and we support very strongly, and I've tried to support him in every way. I don't believe General Clark has said the air campaign cannot work to achieve our objectives. I think every time I've spoken to him or listened to him or heard him on television, he said just the opposite, that we can achieve our mission through the air campaign.
And the mission here is as we've said before, to continually, day by day, destroy as much of his military capability as we can, to the point where his ability to control Kosovo and perhaps other parts of the country erodes.
So I don't agree that we cannot accomplish our mission by an air campaign. I do think we have to have some patience and persistence. And it is interesting to observe the desirability, understandable, to have this done in a week or two weeks or three weeks. I think we said from the beginning this will be a sustained campaign. We certainly planned for a sustained, intensifying campaign. And that's what we're in the middle of.
Q Sandy, can you tell us what's going on on the diplomatic front and what happened with Germany's proposal yesterday? Have they withdrawn it, and did the U.S. objections to it cause that withdrawal?
MR. BERGER: First of all, the United States did not reject anything at all. I would refer you to Jamie's transcript. I don't know who the unnamed official is in Brussels quoted by a prominent Washington newspaper.
What the German proposal was, essentially -- and I think it was a very constructive one -- was -- I would almost call it a sequencing plan. On the one hand, some have suggested, well, once he meets our conditions, if he says, okay, I'll take my forces out, I'll have a cease-fire, I'll let the Kosovars back in, I'll agree to an international security presence, now stop the bombing -- that that's insufficient, that the mere incantation of those words, another promise by Milosevic is not sufficient, there has to be some manifestation of his intent to comply.
On the other hand, it's probably not reasonable to believe the that last international peacekeeper would have to arrive before we would stop the bombing. What Foreign Minister Fisher was trying to do was, in a sense, sort of a sequencing plan, saying a certain amount of implementation, then pause, see if he continues, to implement, then pause.
Now, I notice -- I mean, the EU, itself, did not adopt the proposal -- I suspect because they believe it was just premature at this point. But I think it's a constructive idea.
Q Have they withdrawn it, though?
MR. BERGER: I think the EU -- I don't know if they rejected it. I think they did not act upon it. But I think it is, in a sense, more has been made of it than I think that, perhaps, Mr. Fisher intended. It is, I think, a very constructive way of beginning to think about what would the sequencing be within -- very much within the conditions that we have set forth.
Q Sandy, you've already said you're not specifically -- the President wasn't specifically talking about this convoy incident when he referenced also using human shields. But walk us through the incident itself. Obviously, if it was only a civilian convoy, they were not used as human shields. Or was it a mixed military civilian convoy, in which case, why would Kosovars be in a convoy that served military? And could you draw some conclusions from that? Can you tell us what you think happened?
MR. BERGER: Well, again, I would rather have the Pentagon speak to that. My understanding is that a very conscientious pilot who had been flying down and seeing a series of villages, one after another, burned, obviously by Serb military, came upon something which he passed over more than once, believed to be a military convoy; struck, obviously, something that was civilian, but it was associated, as I understand it, with military -- there were military vehicles, at least, in the vicinity of it.
As I say, these things are going to happen. I think we have to have a sober, serious, conscientious, but not hysterical attitude about these things.
Q Is it possible to imagine a stable region in the Balkans without Serbia being democratic? Does a democratic Serbia presuppose that Milosevic is no longer in power?
MR. BERGER: I would think so.
Q So it is now U.S. policy --
MR. BERGER: No, but the President is not -- you say, ousting Milosevic. I mean, there are a lot of ways in which people leave power. I mean, clearly our judgment is that there ought to be a democratic Serbia. Would a democratic Serbia where opposition forces were permitted to have a dialogue with people, where there was a free press, elect a person who has perpetrated this kind of misery on them? I think that's unlikely.
There is a lot of -- you know, there has been in the past a lot of opposition to Milosevic within Serbia. He's repressed it. We seek to promote that opposition and even as we cooperate with the War Crimes Tribunal as it looks into whether or not there may be evidence that they want to pursue.
Q Was the President saying that we now call for him to be removed from power?
MR. BERGER: The President said exactly what he said, which is hard to imagine a stable Balkans, stable Southeastern Europe without a truly democratic Serbia. It's hard for me to imagine a truly democratic Serbia that Mr. Milosevic, who is a card-carrying totalitarian, would be leading.
Q What's the U.S.'s view of the Greek initiative to work with Belgrade on humanitarian relief?
MR. BERGER: We welcome all such efforts.
Q The President said that he would support the release of as much information as possible. Does he advocate, and would you advocate releasing the videotape of the bombing of the convoy?
MR. BERGER: I think those are judgments that have to be made. It's interesting, you know. Secretary Cohen and General Shelton and I went to the Hill yesterday, or I guess the day before yesterday. We spoke to all four caucuses. Most of the members said -- not most of the members, a dozen members said, I can't believe how much stuff you're putting out. You're fighting a conflict, our people are in danger and you're putting out all of this stuff -- just really -- this is not the way in which -- it was not my father's war.
Now, I think you have to balance the need to convey as much information as we possibly can to help you assess what's going on fairly with the fact that we are engaged in a military operation in which the lives of pilots and others are at risk. There are details here , for example, that presumably would give Mr. Milosevic information about how our pilots surveil a convoy. I'm not sure if that's -- if I'm the father of that pilot, I'm not sure that's a piece of information that I particularly want to have out.
So I think you've got to balance the safety and security of our pilots, the need to conduct the mission in an effective way, and the corresponding need to get as much information to you all that we possibly can. And I think it's a balance we'll try to strike, and the President was saying, as he has to me in the last week or so, let's try to get more of it out. And you've seen more Defense Department briefings in the last week than in the proceeding two.
Q Does that mean this specific video, you would not?
MR. BERGER: If it were up to me, I would not, no.
MR. LOCKHART: I am going to limit the amount of questions I'm going to take, because I am running for something. (Laughter.) Anything for me before we go?
Q I'm sorry, I don't understand this from the pool. Do you know that the President has not talked to Mr. Bennett about the appeal, or can you say that he definitely hasn't talked to him about it?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't tell you whether he's not spoken to him since the order, but he, as far as I know, hasn't had a chance to discuss this in any detail, so there's been no decision.
Q What's the President doing now?
MR. LOCKHART: He's got some private time.
Q I understand that. What's he doing during his private time.
MR. LOCKHART: I'll let you know, when I talk to him after the private time. We did this before, didn't we, Terry? This was more fun on the tarmac.
Q -- you would say on the record, though.
MR. LOCKHART: This was more fun -- I was on the record before when I didn't answer that question. (Laughter.)
Q The President did allude several times to the use of human shields. Do you agree with Sandy's assessment that -- was he suggesting that that's what happened in this convoy?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think he was not speaking to the specific incident, but he was speaking, as Sandy has just told you, to their tactic of doing this, which is not in dispute.
Q The NATO anniversary next week -- have plans been scaled back, and how will the ongoing conflict change the atmosphere and goals of those --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think this was always planned to be a working summit, and will continue to be a working summit. I think the conflict in Kosovo will remain the focus of the meeting.
I think the anniversary celebrations, though, will reflect the fact that there is an ongoing conflict in Kosovo and something that is consuming the attention of NATO and the NATO leaders. So I think we will do some of the important work within NATO next weekend. There will be a real concentration on the situation in Kosovo. But we will use this, also, as an opportunity to talk about the importance of NATO in the context of the anniversary that we will be celebrating.
Q Thank you.
MR. LOCKHART: That was three.
Q Thank you.
Q Can you explain why the base visits were added to the schedule tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we're flying out of the base. I know while we're on the base, we'll be meeting with some of the National Guard members that are there. I don't have the details, though, of the visit yet.
Q Are these people who are going to be involved in the call-up that's expected?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me look into that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
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