THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The International Trade Center Washington, D.C.
5:06 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Have anything for me?
Q Yes, back here -- want to talk about rock-solid consensus and so forth here. The Italian foreign minister has said that his nation opposed the bombing of Serbian TV and that, furthermore, it was not their understanding that NATO would go to that level. Could you comment on that, please?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not familiar with those statements, but I can say and echo the words that have come from the NATO spokespeople and military, that we view the Milosevic regime as a typical authoritarian regime that uses instruments of oppression to impose their will against people and against those people's will; and that includes command and control, and that includes some of the propaganda. I mean, I think you don't have to look back too far in our history, in their history, to see examples of using propaganda, disinformation, to whip up national sentiment and we believe it's a legitimate military target.
Q As far as you understand the Italian -- as far as the United States understands, the Italian government was behind the bombing of the --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I'm not --
Q -- 100 percent?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar with any statement to the contrary.
Q Joe, here was a report in the Los Angeles Times this morning that Secretary of State Albright was disappointed with the formulation that you and the President have enunciated, that there would have to be either an explicit or implicit agreement from Belgrade before a force could go into Kosovo.
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Did she express that to the President?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. I'm not aware of any disappointment. I'm not aware of any disagreement on what that policy is.
Q Previously, you had identified the policy -- or the structure of an international course as one that's NATO-led. Now they're saying with NATO as its core. Is there any difference between those two?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there's a difference. We believe that in order to be effective, in order for it to have the confidence of the Kosovar Albanians, and in order for it to have confidence of the United States government it would have to have NATO at its core.
Q Why aren't you saying NATO-led, as you did a week ago?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think there's a difference.
Q Does NATO core mean NATO -- under NATO command?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it certainly encompasses a NATO command structure.
Q Can I ask you a question? I wonder if you could help clear up a disjuncture that exists, at least in my mind. We hear that this is a battle between dictatorship and democracy, that it's a battle between good and evil, that the future of Europe is at stake, et cetera. But if that's the case, then why is there such an extraordinary aversion to risk? Shouldn't there be a commensurate willingness to take the risk if the stakes are clearly that high?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there is -- I think we take into account risk, and we go forward having looked at all of the available options, having examined what we can do. And we found the best available option. And that option is to pursue and prosecute an air campaign, a campaign that I think, as General Clark told you here a few hours ago, is having an effect, is degrading his ability to impose his will through attacking his instruments of repression.
This is the option that the United States government supports, that the NATO alliance supports, as the best option to prosecute this conflict.
Q But just to take one example -- obviously, this is a largely humanitarian war meant to protect the people of Kosovo. And yet we're now being told that there are 300,000 or 400,000 people that are perhaps dying of starvation, et cetera. And, yet, in terms of risk, NATO isn't even willing to risk flying low enough to try to bring them some kind of aid.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that question belies, or does not fully understand the situation on the ground. We're not willing to go into a situation where the aid that may be dropped could be completely contrary and counter to what we're trying to get done. We've spent 30 days, now, trying to cut off supply lines, trying to tighten the noose around the forces in the field. And to go in in a way that it would be just as likely that aid would get to the forces in the field as they would to those who need it, I don't think would be productive.
I think NATO continues to look at this situation and continues to work very hard to try to find ways to assist on humanitarian -- I'd suggest that we're perhaps looking at the wrong end of this equation. These people are there for a reason. The people who have fled are there for a reason. And we have a situation where some 900,000 have been forced from the country. And now, in a cynical twist on the barbarism, there are some who are being kept in there and not even allowed to leave.
So I'd suggest that the right answer to this is to continue to prosecute the air campaign until Milosevic is no longer able to impose his will.
Q Joe, what will the Clinton administration do to make sure gasoline and petroleum products refined by U.S. oil companies don't make their way to Yugoslavia under this new NATO policy? Is there going to be an executive order, a request for a voluntary ban?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we've already made the case clear that we don't believe that petroleum products -- oil, lubricants -- should get in, because we think that's part of something that fuels, literally, the war machine. As far as any additional steps we may take, I don't have any information on that.
I will say, as Sandy did mention, there was from several of the leaders a recurring theme, a quite powerful theme in this morning's meeting, that it's very difficult to explain to each nation's public, it's very difficult to explain to pilots why we would take so much time and effort and risk in destroying petroleum and oil refineries and production facilities and then allow oil to go in from other sources.
So I think, as Sandy said, we came in looking for a broad mandate to stop petroleum products from going in, and that's what we got today.
Q Would there be room, Joe --
Q -- recently, where they voluntarily said they'd stop, but there's no law preventing them from --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not certain that there's any going in from U.S. sources. If there is, then I'm certain that we will look into ways to stop that.
Q Will there be room within a NATO command structure for non-NATO members, including possibly Russia?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure, we have said repeatedly -- I think the President said as recently as yesterday -- that we welcome other forces. He talked about --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the command structure, I think in order for the government, the U.S. government to be comfortable needs to be under NATO.
Q But to have non-NATO members in the hierarchy of the structure.
MR. LOCKHART: That's looking into the future. My expertise doesn't go far enough to know about the command structure. But I think it has to be the core NATO command structure of NATO.
Q Joe, you've said an international force must have NATO at its core, but that's not what the communique says. The communique says NATO remains ready to form the core. That's a different formulation. Why is the formulation different?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that there's a difference in the formulation. But let me just repeat that our view has not changed, as articulated.
Q I know that you're trying to prevent a united NATO front, but was there no debate about strategy? Was there no objections raised or question raised? You know, you've got 19 countries and it seems like if you're not asking the hard questions at meetings like this, maybe you may not win, or get what you want in the end.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there certainly was a broad discussion of the situation on the ground, but I think what was most remarkable in the meeting -- and I was in for all but about 20-30 minutes of it -- was how united, and how similar, each of the leaders articulated their position. And it was very clear that the leaders understand the importance of persevering with this air campaign, that this is an option that will meet our military objectives, and this is an option that will be intensified over the coming days. And I think you've already seen evidence of that.
Q But none of the leaders asked, why are we doing this or why aren't we doing this? They were just all -- I don't know, it's a little frightening that everyone said the same thing, like their talking points or something.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think it was talking points, at all. In fact, many of the leaders spoke without the benefit of any notes or paper, and spoke clearly, with a passion, about how important this job is and how convinced they are that we're on the right course. This isn't something that was entered lightly; it isn't something that was entered without a lot of thought. There were a variety of options that NATO had before them, we chose the best option, I think as General Clark has said. This option is working, this option will be intensified and this option will succeed.
Q You mentioned the intensification several times, but was there anything in the meeting that advanced the General's request for additional airplanes from the United States and the other NATO members?
MR. LOCKHART: There was nothing specific that I know of. He made the case, and I think there was a general sense that this will be ratcheted up and I think there's already been some talk of other assets. And I'll leave it to NATO and the Pentagon here to discuss those details.
Q Joe, Mr. Chernomyrdin or his staff discussed the possibility of an agreement where a military force would go in, but it would basically be people wearing military uniforms who might be lightly armed, simply with sidearms. Does that sound like a force that the U.S. would participate in?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we've made clear what kind of force we are looking for. Again, we think it's constructive that Mr. Chernomyrdin and the Russians are engaged in this. We don't believe that this has advanced to the point where we have a workable model for ending this conflict. But that doesn't mean that this work could not be potentially useful in the future.
Q But just to follow up, in light of other peacekeeping missions the U.S. has gotten involved in, do you think there's any chance that we'd go into a situation where U.S. troops would go in a lightly armed configuration?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't believe there would be any situations where U.S. troops didn't go in with the kind of arms that our military leaders believe are necessary.
Q Given the sense of unanimity that came out of the meeting today, was there any -- and the level of detail in the discussion -- was there any forward-looking talk about how long this might take with the intensification if things go well? Was there any discussion of that?
MR. LOCKHART: There was no specific conversations about any particular deadlines or how long people thought it might take. Only a sense that we need to stick with this and stay with this until we reach our military objectives.
Q Joe, the British press was proclaiming loudly that Tony Blair was coming here to convince President Clinton to introduce ground troops. And, in fact, some of the British press -- Daily Telegraph, for example -- went so far as to compare Blair's mission here with Maggie Thatcher coming and convincing George Bush not to go wobbly on her. I gather he was not successful on the ground troops aspect, but does anybody find this comparison with the Thatcher-Bush comparison a bit insulting?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, if I got into what was insulting in the press, we'd be here all evening and I'd have too many areas to go through.
I'll leave -- let me just tell you what I know, which is, the President articulated his position on ground troops well before, and many times before Mr. Blair came to visit. He's articulated it since. It hasn't changed.
The British have indicated what their position is. I'll let them speak for themselves. And I don't think we should get too caught up in what the latest headlines say, nor should we spend any time worrying about any historical comparisons.
Q Joe, was there any discussion of indicting Milosevic for war crimes under Provision 11, the War Crimes Provision? The statement, it refers investigating those at the highest level.
MR. LOCKHART: There was no real detailed discussion -- only, I think there were some references during the meeting to the atrocities, the humanitarian situation that's unfolded, and the fact that as the joint -- the communique indicates that all NATO countries will work with the War Crimes Tribunal to bring those who are responsible for these actions to justice.
Q Joe, was there any discussion of when the Apaches might become operational? And is that the kind of asset that you may consider adding more of, sort of low and lean and attacking --
MR. LOCKHART: There was no specific discussion that I heard, unless it happened after I left. I think on the issues of deployment of specific assets, I'm going to leave it to the Pentagon to comment on that.
Q The Vice President has announced a trip to Littleton on Sunday night, I believe. Did the President and Vice President discuss that? How was it decided he should go, and does this affect the President's plan to at some point visit Littleton?
MR. LOCKHART: It does not affect the President's plans. I think the Vice President received an invitation from Patricia Holloway to come to an event on Sunday. He is anxious to go and see the situation on the ground, see if what we're doing here on a federal level is helping, find out if there's any additional assistance; and also working in his role as the Vice President to let the people there know that the country, as a whole, as a large community is with them, understands what they're going through, and stands ready to help in any way we can.
Q Yesterday morning, the Greek Defense Minister said that there could not be a military solution to this crisis and he said that diplomatic initiatives, such as that from the Germans, have been dismissed far too quickly. Can you comment on that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I would say that diplomatic initiatives, I don't believe, have been dismissed far too early. As we said at the time, there was a lot of constructive work in the German proposal as far as sequencing as how we move down the road.
I think, fundamentally, what needs to happen here is Milosevic needs to understand that we will continue to keep hitting him until he changes his mind. He has not changed his mind yet on meeting the demands laid out by NATO. And you can have, and should have, vigorous diplomatic initiatives ongoing, but I think we will see results only when he gets the message that he's going to continue to pay a higher and higher price if he continues to hold out on the position he's in now.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 5:22 P.M. EDT