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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 25, 1999
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                      AND SECRETARY GENERAL SOLANA
                            Mellon Auditorium
                             Washington. D.C.            

9:14 A.M. EDT

SECRETARY GENERAL SOLANA: Good morning and welcome to this special meeting of NATO allies with the seven countries neighboring the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. We meet at a time of crisis in Kosovo, and no one knows better the full impact of the crisis than those living in the immediate neighborhood. The NATO allies are conscious of the hardship and difficulties the crisis has brought to your region.

For some countries, such as Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the flow of refugees across your borders and the problem of providing humanitarian aid on a massive scale has required efforts nothing short of heroic. NATO, along with other international organizations and individual countries, has tried to help, and we will continue to do so. We want to work with you and other countries for security and stability in the region.

The NATO allies are grateful for the support which countries in the region have provided, from hosting NATO forces to granting air space access and providing logistical support. Such reliance and support of the international community's objectives in Kosovo is a sure sign of our eventual success.

As you know, Kosovo was the subject of a special meeting on Friday at which the allies reaffirmed their determination to carry forward the action in Kosovo to a successful conclusion. We will not waiver. We must, and we shall, succeed.

I will open the floor for discussion, offering the opportunity first to the neighboring countries for their views both on the immediate situation and for any reflection they wish to make on a broad regional strategy for the future. Before doing that, let me offer the floor to President Clinton.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary General. We want to welcome the leaders of all the frontline states here, and say that we are very grateful for what you have done. The people of Albania and Macedonia have welcomed almost a half a million refugees to their countries -- often, literally, into their homes. You have shared what you have, though the strains are immense. NATO is working to relieve your burden with the United Nations -- by building camps, providing supplies, helping to bring more refugees to other countries until they can return to Kosovo. We must do more -- intensifying our relief operations, taking our share of refugees.

The nations of the region have risked, and even faced, armed confrontation with Serbia, by facilitating and supporting our campaign to end the bloodshed in Kosovo. Yesterday -- or Friday, NATO made its position very clear. We said, unambiguously, if Belgrade challenges its neighbors as a result of the presence of NATO, we will respond.

The nations of the region have faced enormous economic dislocation and losses. We are committed to working with you, and with multilateral institutions, to ease your emergency needs and help you with your debts. You want a better future for your nations and your region, and there, as well, we are committed to help.

Many of us have tried to lay out a vision for the region, a positive alternative to the violence and ethnic hatred, a vision of people and nations working together -- bridging old divides, forging a common future of peace, freedom and prosperity. How do we get there?

First of all, we must prevail in Kosovo. A just end to the conflict is essential to putting the entire region on the path to stability. Second, we must strengthen our efforts to support economic development and deeper democracy, ethnic and religious tolerance, and regional integration in Southeastern Europe. We must build on the many positive ways in which the nations of the region often with our support already are bringing change at home, in cooperation across borders.

In that regard, I want to especially commend Slovenia's strong efforts in recent years to reach out to its neighbors. We will work toward the day when all the people of the region, including the Serbs, now suffering under reckless tyranny, enjoy freedom and live together.

This will require a commitment by nations of the region to continue political and economic reforms. And I particularly respect the efforts of Bulgaria and Romania in this regard, to stick with their programs under very difficult circumstances. It will require that we sustain our engagement. I welcome the suggestion of the German-EU presidency to hold a conference in Bonn next month to advance these common efforts. I hope our finance ministers, when they meet here next week with international financial institutions, will explore imaginative and aggressive ways for us to help.

Finally, we must continue to strengthen the security bonds between your countries and NATO. Five of the nations here are NATO partners. Yesterday NATO and its partners agreed to deepen our security engagement. We will continue to work with Bosnia and Croatia on implementation of the Dayton Accords, looking toward eventual partnership. And yesterday NATO adopted a robust membership action plan to help aspiring nations strengthen their candidacy so they can enter NATO. New members will bolster our Alliance and Europe's security.

In all the countries present here today, leaders and citizens are working to realize a vision just the opposite of Mr. Milosevic's -- reaching across the divides to pursue shared dreams of a better life. All of them are on the right road, and we must travel it with them to ensure that they succeed.

Thank you very much.

END 9:20 A.M. EDT