THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL The Briefing Room
7:38 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me give you some information on the meeting that President Clinton and Vice President and others of us had with Special Representative Chernomyrdin. It lasted about 90 minutes.
He reported to the President on the discussions that he had had with President Milosevic in Belgrade, and President Milosevic's views on what he sees as necessary for ending the conflict. Those positions are inadequate in several respects from the perspective of the United States and NATO.
In particular, with respect to whether there would be a full withdrawal of Serb forces; with respect to what the nature of the international security presence would be -- or indeed, if it would be a security presence, military presence, at all; and with respect to the sequencing of all of these various events on either side -- in particular the suspension, pause in the bombing, vis a vis steps that he would have agreed to have undertaken.
Mr. Chernomyrdin had a letter from President Yeltsin, which he delivered to President Clinton. The Russians have some further ideas, which we will continue to discuss with them. I think it is fair to say that the Russian position is closer to ours than Milosevic's position in a number of respects. I think we both share -- that is, the Russians and us -- the firm view that it is essential that the Kosovar Albanians -- all the Kosovars who have been cleansed from the region be able to return, with security.
The President made very clear to Mr. Chernomyrdin what our requirements were, what NATO's requirements were -- that is, that at essence, we have to create the conditions in which the Kosovar Albanians can come home, and those conditions mean the Serb forces have to be out, and an international security presence has to come in; otherwise the Kosovars will not come home.
The President further explained to Mr. Chernomyrdin what the rationale of the various elements of our requirements are -- that is, if there is not a NATO element to the security force, we, presumably, will not be part of it. If we are not part of it, it is likely that the Kosovars will not come back, because they trust us, in part because we have come to their defense.
If some of the Serb forces leave Kosovo, but not all of the Serb forces, you simply have a prescription for a new civil war between a returning Albanian population, heavily armed, presumably, and a residual or maybe even more than residual Serb army presence, or Serb police presence. And so the President not only outlined the conditions -- that is, Kosovars must be able to come home, the Serbs must leave on a timetable that we agree on, international security presence has to be part of this, and in order for us to stop the bombing, pause the bombing, suspend the bombing, choose your word -- we have to see as we have said on innumerable occasions in the past -- we have to see verifiable signs that the Serbs are in fact departing.
The President explained that to Mr. Chernomyrdin, and I think explained why this not only makes sense from the point of view of the Kosovars, but, in fact, ironically, it makes sense in our view from the point of view of Serbia. Because, otherwise, unless you have an international security presence, a robust international security presence, there's no way that Kosovo stays a part of Serbia, and there's no way that you do not create a new war six months, nine months, 12 months down the road by virtue of a greater Albania, on the one hand, and a Greater Serbia, on the other end, clashing with each other.
And the President's point to Mr. Chernomyrdin was we want to create a durable peace; in order to create a durable peace, there can't be grays here. There really needs to be a removal of the Serb forces; there needs to be a serious international security force, with the Russians as part of it, under a U.N. mandate, we would hope, as we are in Bosnia. I think that would strengthen our position. And there must be, as I say, a timetable under which that takes place, and the beginning of that withdrawal taking place.
We will continue -- after about 90 minutes, the President had Reverend Jackson and his delegation waiting. We adjourned; we'll continue at the Vice President's tonight, a little bit later, to continue the conversations with Mr. Chernomyrdin.
I expect these discussions with the Russians, with our allies will continue over some days and weeks. This is not something that is going to result in some magical breakthrough in the next nanosecond. But I think that what we have sought to do is explain -- what the President sought to do was to explain to Mr. Chernomyrdin as clearly as we can -- and I think he did it extremely well -- what our requirements are, what NATO's requirements are.
And I think he sees the role that President Yeltsin -- this is the last point I'll make -- I think he sees the role that President Yeltsin and Mr. Chernomyrdin are playing here as a constructive one. To the extent that he is able to convey to Mr. Milosevic clearly what NATO's requirements are, that is useful.
And I guess I would leave it at that.
Q Without going through the three or four things I think -- and I'll bet others did -- think they heard of a softening of Clinton's position -- because I don't want to get into an argument over that -- let me just -- or debate over that -- let me just put the question this way: How did Chernomyrdin react to the way the President today -- today -- formulated the peacekeeping force, which now even you say, has to have a NATO element? It used to be a NATO force --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: NATO core --
Q -- no, no, wait -- that he's ready to negotiate the composition of the force --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Barry --
Q -- that he's ready to have a cease-fire. There are several things he said today which represent gestures, at least, of conciliation, at least toward the Russians. So I'm interested if Chernomyrdin picked up on that, or he stuck to the Russian position, which is very different from the U.S.'s.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Now, can I answer?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. First of all, you're wrong.
Q Well, I'm going to write it that way anyhow.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But I have a right -- (laughter) -- what a surprise.
Q I have ears, and I heard what you said.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What a surprise. (Laughter.) But I also have an obligation to tell you what was intended and what was said.
Q But the policy never changes, we know that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, Barry, listen -- we have said innumerable times that the conditions, the requirements of NATO are that the Kosovars must come back, the Serb forces must leave, and there must be an international security presence with NATO at the core, with a strong NATO element. If we use the same formulaic words every single time, we would be automatons. We're not. Get a tape recorder instead of a briefer. There's no difference between a strong NATO element and NATO at the core.
The point is, functionally -- let's talk about it functionally. We're not going to participate unless NATO is at the core, because it wouldn't make sense for us to participate. We're not going to participate unless there's command and control that we believe is effective. That's why we wouldn't participate in a U.N. command and control system. And we don't intend to command this ourselves because we believe the Europeans should be a larger portion of it.
So NATO has to be at the core, center element, because we won't participate in it if it isn't, and I don't believe, and the President doesn't believe that it will work unless we participate. So I don't believe that there was any -- I know there was no intention, but I don't believe even there was any language which changed from language that I can show you from 25 different transcripts.
Q What about Chernomyrdin? Did Chernomyrdin pick up on this?
Q -- Jackson now?
Q What was Chernomyrdin's reaction to the President's formulation today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that he understood what the President was saying. As I said, I think that the Russian position is closer to ours than Milosevic's position is. I think he understood the logic of what the President was saying. I think that he is unclear whether Milosevic will move to those positions.
Q Can you tell us about the Jackson meeting now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Jackson. Reverend Jackson and his delegation reported back to the President. I hate to speak for my friend, Reverend Jackson; he speaks for himself pretty well. He basically reported on the trip. He said that they had been quite clear with Milosevic about what our requirements were in terms of stopping the bombing. He believed that -- I think he made it clear to Mr. Milosevic that we are serious and that we will continue. He also, I think, believes that there is a strong Serb feeling that, obviously, they are not pleased about the bombing.
But again, I'll let him speak for himself. The President basically said that he was glad that the prisoners were released. He recognized that this had a harsh effect on the Serb people, but its intention was not directed at the Serb people, it was directed at the Serb government. He said that we would work hard for a diplomatic solution, but it would have to be one that met our conditions.
He also made the argument to the group that he made to Chernomyrdin that -- two things -- one, that if we can reverse the ethnic cleansing, then we can follow up with an effort in the Balkans -- something the President talked about originally in San Francisco, and much more at the NATO Summit -- an effort for a Southeast Europe initiative so that the things that are pulling the Balkans together are more powerful than the things that are pulling it apart.
He said that he believed -- he made the same argument that the reason a strong international security presence is necessary is to keep the peace, and to avoid a new civil war, as he said, with a greater Albania vying against a greater Serbia. And he said he does not believe we can bring the Kosovars home without an international security presence, which also would provide some protection to the Serb population in Kosovo. And the President said many times that he would expect a mandate of this force to be to protect all of the people of Kosovo -- Serb, as well as Kosovars.
Q Is there a letter from Milosevic?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's a letter from Milosevic which, unfortunately, has nothing new in it.
Q Did Reverend Jackson repeat his request?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The letter we received yesterday from Reverend Jackson.
Q Did Reverend Jackson repeat his request for some sort of reciprocal gesture on the part of the U.S. and NATO?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He did. He said that he would -- he believed it would be useful for there to be a diplomatic -- a diplomatic gesture deserves a diplomatic gesture.
Q Is there going to be a diplomatic gesture?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we will take the steps that we think are appropriate.
Q Was there any discussion of releasing the Yugoslav prisoners, for example?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, that is a matter that we've been considering for some time. There's no decision that's been made.
Q On this question of the nature of the force, he said that the reason why the position was inadequate, as laid out by Milosevic, was that he had not only not agreed to the nature of the international security presence, but the presence at all.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. I think that Mr. Milosevic accepts an international presence that is clearly a civilian presence -- something like U.N. monitors. What is less clear is whether he accepts, A, a military presence; and B, what the nature of that military presence might be.
Q My second question is, what's our basis for believing that the KLA or whomever will come back more heavily armed than they were before? Are we seeing some signs to that effect?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we are seeing -- the KLA is stronger today than it was before Milosevic began his assault on Kosovo. That is an analytical judgment; that's not just my judgment. It is -- there were 500 -- I think these numbers are right -- there were 300-500 KLA members a year ago. There were 5,000-10,000 KLA members at the time of Milosevic's March assault. One can only imagine what is happening in the refugee camps in terms of KLA recruitment, but we have, obviously, some anecdotal information which suggests that the KLA is stronger now than it was before.
With respect to arms, although there is an arms embargo on the former Yugoslavia, there is an Albanian diaspora that has supported the KLA. And I suspect that they will be able to obtain arms and, therefore, ironically, for Milosevic -- the only way that he will keep Kosovo in, even nominally, in the former Yugoslavia, and not get absolutely consumed by his own Afghanistan, is by having an international security presence that will provide some degree of protection, some degree of disarmament of the KLA, and avoid a population of Kosovar Albanians coming back angry, and perhaps having some of that anger directed at Kosovar Serbs.
Q Do Jackson's initiatives, even though they were successful, in any way undercut what the U.S. and NATO is trying to accomplish? And if he had to do it again, even though he had a successful ending, would you rather he not have went?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'm glad our soldiers are back, so --
Q That given, does he undercut your effort?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think listening to Reverend Jackson, having discussed this with him before he went, and listening to him today, I believe that he genuinely made clear to Milosevic that there's no future in this present course.
Q Reverend Jackson outside is saying that one recommendation that he made to President Clinton was that he make a telephone call to Milosevic to at least thank him for releasing the soldiers, and Jackson said, well, and that conversation might go on further. Is President Clinton planning such a telephone call?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have no such plans.
Q Did Mr. Milosevic propose a face-to-face meeting with President Clinton?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was some discussion of that, but I don't expect that to happen.
Q Reverend Jackson apparently said out here that to communicate by letter, and not talk face to face, is kissing through the telephone -- something vital is missing. Does the President --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not touching that line with a 10-foot pole. Let me go at the essence of your question, rather than the core -- (laughter) -- the element -- the key element, okay?
I think, first of all, that Milosevic understands quite clearly what the basic requirements of the international community are. He has shown no substantial evidence of embracing them, and I think -- I don't think that would be productive.
Q You all now have had an opportunity to meet with two very different groups of people -- men who have met with Milosevic. Based on --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Obuchi -- was that one of them? That was also today. I'm sorry.
Q Based on what you all have been told today, what do you all think you've learned about where Milosevic is? Is he stalling for time? Is he playing a propaganda game? Or is he looking for a real exit strategy? What's your impression right now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think he knows that his options are limited, and I think that he has to understand that they are extremely limited. And he can go on and continue to lose more of his country every day -- more of his military, more of his power centers -- or he can find a way to cut his losses.
Q Is that the message that they -- what did they tell you about him that made you conclude that that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's my -- I'm extracting. This is my -- not attributing that to Chernomyrdin or Jackson. That's my impression from a whole montage of information.
I think that -- Mr. Milosevic has to come to grips, I think, with -- if he wants this to end -- and we would certainly like it to end -- he has to come to grips with the fundamental question of whether he wants the Kosovar Albanians to go back to Kosovo -- because if he does, then he's going to have to permit an international security force, with NATO at its core, a strong, robust international security force. And he's going to have to get his army out of there. Because if he doesn't do those -- if those two things don't happen, the Kosovars will not go back.
And I think that -- let's go back to what we've seen here. Let's go back to what this is about. What this is about is the most massive ethnic expulsions directed by a leader since World War II. And if we -- we can either accept that, or reverse it. If we're going to reverse it, there's some basic requirements which are really kind of irreducible, because it doesn't come together otherwise.
It doesn't come together with half the Serb force still there, and it doesn't come together with a namby-pamby international security force. It only comes together with the Serb forces gone, and with a strong international security presence that can protect the Serbs, protect the Kosovars, avoid a civil war in Kosovo and maintain Kosovo within the sovereignty of former Yugoslavia.
Q Did you find anything new or significant in Yeltsin's letter, or was it basically a repetition of the previous Russian position?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There were some ideas in President Yeltsin's letter about process, I think, of how this might move forward. But I think they require some further discussion.
Q Are you getting close to an identifiable process of negotiations with the Russians or through them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think these conversations with the Russians, this discussion which, as you know, has been going on for about two weeks since Chernomyrdin was selected, Talbott to Moscow, the Vice President on the phone, Yeltsin and the President on the phone -- I think they are useful in trying to close the gap between our position and the Russian position, number one. That has a value in and of itself. We haven't done that, but I think we've narrowed it. And, number two, to the extent that the Russians choose to try to influence Mr. Milosevic's perspective or viewpoint, that would be useful.
Q Where do the Russians differ from the United States --
Q Is there any sense of a meeting between the President and Yeltsin?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, nothing planned.
Q Are you going to be in these discussions tonight with Gore and Chernomyrdin?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These are not negotiations. I mean, we're going to go have a drink.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 8:05 P.M. EDT