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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 25, 1999
                        BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY

                      International Trade Center
                           Washington. D.C.

11:55 A.M. EDT

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, I just want to give you a few minutes on this meeting of the Council with the seven neighboring states.

It was an extremely substantive exchange. The President led off -- you have the transcript of his remarks, they're on the record -- and emphasized that we must prevail in Kosovo, strengthen efforts to support economic development and deeper democracy, ethnic and religious tolerance and regional integration, and then work with the nations of the region to build cooperation across borders.

That set the stage for what was a series of statements by the seven guests, the seven neighboring states, which included, in this case, Bosnia and Croatia, who are not members of the Partnership for Peace, but were involved in this particular meeting at the foreign minister level.

Everybody addressed both the challenges of dealing with the immediate crisis and then the kind of post-conflict reconstruction challenge, with great stress, of course, on mobilizing all necessary resources to deal with the refugees. Several of the frontline line states emphasized the need for some burden-sharing here, not least the Macedonians who feel that they're close to, if not beyond, the breaking point in terms of their capacity to absorb refugees. Several of the other neighboring states offered to do their part with the refugees, including the Slovenes, the Hungarians as an ally, and others. I wasn't keeping a careful book.

The Greeks are proposing to host a humanitarian conference in Athens in the coming days to try to help further come to grips with the refugee and humanitarian crisis. But I think the accent in the discussions was on the post-conflict challenge. Everybody agreed NATO must prevail. And then after we do, we need to have a comprehensive strategy for Southeastern Europe.

Several countries called for something on the scale of the Marshall Plan. Both the neighboring states and many of the allies stressed the same point that Southeastern Europe needs to be brought into the peace and prosperity that the rest of Europe enjoys. The Bulgarian pointed out that for Serbia to ultimately choose democracy, it has to see that democracy works in the neighboring states, and ultimately, democracy and prosperity need to go hand in hand.

So there were a lot of specific suggestions -- efforts to stimulate investment, to give them relief from debt servicing. The Bosnian foreign minister suggested a free trade area for the region; more assistance from the international financial institutions efforts to help build democracy, civil society; promote institution-building. The Bulgarian suggested a code of -- that was the Bosnian -- a code of human rights and minority rights. There was emphasis on the need to help with Montenegro. I'm just trying to think if there was anything else.

On the institutional side, there was agreement that this is a test that goes beyond NATO, obviously. It's a multi-institutional challenge -- the European Union, the OSCE, the G-8 all need to play their part.

One amusing note, was President Chirac sought to suggest that this was a NATO-EU meeting, rather than a NATO meeting. That was, I think, a surprise to the Chancellor of Germany, as the EU presidency.

But I think, from our perspective, we thought it was very productive. We've been advocating -- if you recall President Clinton's speech in San Francisco about a week ago, where he laid out his concept for a Southeast European strategy. We heard a lot of echoes of the same themes, and a Romanian suggestion that at the next summit meeting of the U.S. and the European Union, and at the next G-8 Summit, there be a real focus on Southeastern Europe. He got a generally positive response from everybody.

Tony Blair summed up the discussion as the last speaker, or the next to the last speaker -- saying that we both are grateful to the countries in the countries in the region for supporting NATO, and we have an obligation now to them not only to see them through the crisis, assure their security, but work to help with the rebuilding of the region. And that was very much consistent with the President's opening remarks as well.

Q -- talk about a Marshall Plan include the possibility of redrawing borders?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. In fact, there were many who emphasized the need to respect borders and focus on erasing the significance of borders the way that they've been erased in Western Europe. The Bulgarian evoked that theme, that we need to have a region which is integrated through economic cooperation so that the international borders cease to be lines of discord.

Q And what about this German plan, and plans for a conference on it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. The Germans introduced about three weeks ago what they called a stability pact for Southeastern Europe, which is very much in the same vein as U.S. ideas. It would involve roles for the European Union, for NATO, for the OSCE, dealing with the different dimensions -- NATO dealing with the security, EU with the economic, OSCE with the kind of political-civil society aspects of this.

We certainly want to work with the European Union to figure out a way to bring this all together and get it on the road. There's a lot of good ideas out there. The Germans have proposed a conference to talk about the stability pact with the regional states, and the key is now to sort of bring these ideas into some coherent game plan and launch.

NATO launched sort of its small piece of it in the communique yesterday by establishing a forum. So this group will now become a standing entity -- this 19 plus 7 group -- meeting regularly in Brussels to develop the security side of this. But it clearly is something that the EU has a huge role to play in, as does OSCE. This is something that the United States has seen all along as important for these institutions to cooperate more with one another and reinforce each other.

Q Are there any differences over the German plan that you -- that the Americans have?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think only in -- maybe on some details, and exactly how the integration of the different institutions will take place. The German proposal puts the OSCE in the kind of central coordinating role. President Chirac supported that today. We don't necessarily disagree, but we need to sit down and figure this out and come to a definite agreement on making this work -- going from the theory to the practice.

Q And do you support having a conference in the near future? What's happening with that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think, in principle -- I'm not sure what this German-proposed conference will involve in terms of participation, but we certainly want to engage -- get people from the different countries and institutions around the same table and put this plan into action.

Q Do you have anything solid yet on how the oil embargo is going to work -- the details of that yet?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think I saw a very encouraging comment by the French Defense Minister confirming that France now accepts and is supportive of what we call a visit and search regime. And so, yesterday, in the evening, the decision was finalized within NATO to instruct the military authorities to put the preparations for such a regime into place. So we think that in the coming days, this actually will be implemented, and taking into account different aspects, including the desire not to overly harm Montenegro's overall economy, but at the same time to staunch the flow of oil to Serbia.

Q I'm sorry -- what you think will be implemented in coming days is --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Is a visit and search regime -- what we had proposed over a week ago at NATO. It now has found allied consensus and the military is going to put --

Q Can you tell us a little bit of what that means?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. It means that NATO ships will be instructed to stop cargo ships destined for Yugoslav ports, and if they are carrying what we consider to be war material, to divert them or ask them to turn back. But I would leave it to the NATO spokesman to explain this in detail. Since it isn't quite finished yet, I don't want to get ahead of the detailed concept of operations, which is being finalized.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 12:05 P.M. EDT