THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
3:10 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Let me just bring you up to date since we talked this morning, President Clinton spoke for about 10 minutes on the phone with Prime Minister Blair. They are very much in agreement on our basic points: the NATO air campaign will continue until we see the beginnings of a verifiable withdrawal, until the agreement, the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin agreement is implemented.
The President also spoke shortly thereafter, again, for about 10 minutes with President Yeltsin. It was a very constructive call. The two Presidents affirmed that implementation of Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin documents accepted last week by Milosevic should form the basis for a peaceful settlement of conflict and the suspension of NATO's air campaign. They both agreed to instruct their Foreign Ministers, who are in Bonn and who have just spoken, to move quickly to work out the details of that agreement.
As the Foreign Ministers have just reported, they've made substantial progress today, worked through a number of issues. There are a few issues remaining, where consultation with capitals needs to be done. They will get back together tomorrow.
Q Did the President and Mr. Yeltsin discuss the command structure question?
MR. LOCKHART: No, that subject did not come up.
Q Did Yeltsin ask for a bombing pause?
MR. LOCKHART: He did not.
Q Joe, what about this issue with Reverend Jackson possibly going back to Yugoslavia to deal with the issue of helping to release captives?
MR. LOCKHART: I've seen the reports. My understanding from the reports is Reverend Jackson will go as a private citizen on a humanitarian effort. He has not consulted anyone here that I know of, so I don't -- the White House has no official view of the trip, as we learned about it the same way you did.
Q Last time you were talking about freelance diplomacy. You did not support that at all, you were very -- the administration seemed to be very angry. I mean, why is it such a cool, somewhat, temperament this time?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, you can interpret our temperament in any way you choose, but this is a private mission, that we know about from press reporting, and I can't speculate on what the effect or impact of it will be.
Q You have no objection, do you? Or do you?
MR. LOCKHART: I only know what I've read on the news wires in the last couple of hours. Again, there was no consultation here, so I'm not raising any objection.
Q Joe, what was the problem in the talks with the Yugoslavs? Can you tell us where things broke down, what the problem was?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, as I discussed this morning, there remains some obstacles having to do with sequencing of events. There are a variety of interests and views that are being reflected in several capitals, but let me focus on what the United States and NATO's view is, and what we need to see as far as sequencing.
We need to make sure that the NATO air campaign continues until we see the beginnings of a verifiable withdrawal of Serb forces. That's what our bottom line is. We think the sequencing issues are important because we don't want events to unfold in a way that would create a security vacuum in Kosovo. We believe that it's important that the principles embodied in the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin agreement are implemented fully, both in how forces move out and how forces move in.
So these are very important issues. They're -- as you can tell by watching some of the diplomatic activity, there are attempts to try to synchronize as much of these events as we can, but the sequencing remains important. But I would stress that this process is ongoing.
Q Your concerns about a security vacuum, that is a fear that the KLA might take over after the troops leave or before the peacekeepers come in? What is the concern?
MR. LOCKHART: Our concern is that we have a situation where KFOR can go in, in a way that reflects the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin agreement, so that refugees will be able to, as soon as possible, return.
Q It seems clear that there won't be an agreement on pulling out the troops until there's an agreement on the U.N. resolution -- I mean, that's how it seems to be shaping up. Is that correct? And so what's holding up the resolution, itself?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, as the Foreign Ministers reported just a few moments ago, they've made substantial progress in the last 12 hours, in their discussions in Germany. I think Foreign Minister Fischer accurately reflected that the vast majority of the issues that they've been working on have been resolved. There remain a few that some consultation with capitals needs to be done overnight. So they'll get back together tomorrow and try to sort out the few remaining issues.
Q That didn't answer the U.N. question.
MR. LOCKHART: What's the U.N. question? I'll try to answer any question you have.
Q Are they, in fact, linked? Does the U.S. now accept that there can't be a pullout from Kosovo until a U.N. resolution has been passed?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me tell you what the U.S. believes and accepts, which is that the air campaign will continue until we see the kind of pullout that we and NATO have called for, until we can verify it. We've been very clear on this now for two months, about what we need to see.
We've also been clear that we welcome and have worked toward having a U.N. resolution passed on the peacekeeping forces. Secretary Albright has worked very hard today in Germany on this subject. There's still some more work to be done. We will begin again early tomorrow with continuing on that effort.
As I said, I can't tell you how things will ultimately be synchronized -- only to say our bottom line position is, the air campaign will continue until we see this withdrawal.
Q Joe, is there any reason to believe that there's any good faith at all on the part of the Yugoslavs?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's a -- we're looking down the wrong road if we're looking to do things on faith. We need to see. We need to verify. We need to set up a system of implementation that is precise and will allow us to make sure -- with our own eyes, based on what we see and what we know, rather than on what Milosevic tells us -- that the withdrawal is indeed happening.
Q Well, let me rephrase that, if I may. Is there any reason to believe the Yugoslavs are serious about implementing the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin plan?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think based on what President Ahtisaari reported to the Foreign Ministers, based on his telephone conversation, Milosevic indicated that he was serious, that he wanted this to move forward. Again, while those words may be reassuring, ultimately we need more than words.
Q Joe, it was reported from Moscow and elsewhere that there were objections by the Russian military attache, who was there as an observer when the discussions went on between the military delegations, over what was put on the table by General Jackson and the others. Did this subject come up in the President's discussion with Yeltsin? Did he express some of the objections that they have been -- the Russian concerns?
MR. LOCKHART: No. Again, I'm not aware of any specific objections, but I'm certain that these, whether they're real or not, did not come up in the phone conversation.
Q Are the allies doing anything, looking ahead down the road to the revenge factor on the part of the KLA, which might cause a lot more new turmoil?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we have spoken -- both members of the United States government and NATO; I think you've heard from other foreign capitals -- spoken to the KLA, and we're confident that they will adhere to the agreements they made in Rambouillet some months ago, now.
Q One of the Russian objections to the U.N. resolution is the term "NATO at its core" to describe the peacekeeping force. Is that negotiable, and did that come up in the conversation between the President and President Yeltsin?
MR. LOCKHART: That did not come up in the conversation, and no, that's not negotiable.
Q Joe, the agreement stipulates that the security force and the civilian force will be under U.N. auspices. Is it the White House position that insisting on a Security Council resolution before those forces go in is somehow inconsistent with that agreement?
MR. LOCKHART: Not necessarily. Again, I think what we need to see as far as sequencing is the withdrawal to begin before we will suspend the air campaign. Again, there's a lot of discussion about how these events are sequenced and how they're synchronized. Speaking for the U.S. government and for NATO, I think we've been very clear about what we need to see.
Q Joe, did Yeltsin and the President discuss any aspects of the U.N. Security Council in their conversation, whether it was about the NATO at its core or not?
MR. LOCKHART: They didn't discuss the aspects of how the peacekeeping force would be constituted. I think they did discuss the important work that's going on, trying to implement the agreement, the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin agreement that they made with Milosevic, and how we move forward towards implementing that. And I think President Yeltsin was clear that he would be in contact with his Foreign Minister, and the President in turn, to make sure that this was done as quickly as possible.
Q Did the subject of the U.N. come up in any way? Did President Yeltsin, for example, indicate that he felt that was an important step that needed to be taken?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Joe, can you clarify again, do the Russians now accept the notion that this must be a NATO-led force?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm going to let the Russians speak for themselves. I think we've been clear. I think there's a lot of work going on, particularly in Germany with Foreign Minister Ivanov. There are still some issues to be worked out, but we have been very clear, now, for some time that we believe that this needs to be a unified -- and we believe we will insist on a unified command, with NATO at its core.
Q But on that principle, if I may, on that principle, what have the Russians told you? That they accept it, or no?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll let the Russians speak for themselves on the subject.
Q Are there any indications that we have that the Yugoslav generals -- the top ones, the negotiators, or the people who have to agree -- are going to come back to the table?
MR. LOCKHART: We have made very clear that General Jackson is ready to resume discussions at his level. As I've said, discussions have continued at a lower level. The door will be open. They know what they need to do. I haven't seen any indications that their return -- that they have signaled when they may return. But the bottom line is the air campaign will continue until they do and they reach an implementation agreement.
Q It is correct, is it not, that the air campaign then cannot stop until there is an agreement on withdrawal? You talked about a verifiable withdrawal -- Yugoslav forces are not going to take to the roads to withdraw and be pounded.
MR. LOCKHART: It's hard to see how they would withdraw without first reaching the technical agreement.
Q But, Joe, I mean, it sounds like once a U.N. resolution can be passed it's going to clear a pretty big roadblock for this. The Security Council meeting that was called for tonight -- was that in the hopes that they would have something to actually discuss?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think there will be anything going on at the Security Council tonight. I think there has been some indications from the Security Council that they need to be ready to move quickly once they have something to discuss.
Q And is that why the U.S. called for a meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: The U.S. didn't call for a meeting. I would check with the U.N. on the specifics here, but as I understand it, the U.N., like any organization, has a system where things need to be tabled, people need to be called together. But there was a -- who was -- the Security Council just put people on notice that there might be --
Q Could it happen as early as tonight?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, what I'm telling you is it won't happen tonight.
Q So it's called off, the meeting is called off?
MR. LOCKHART: There is no meeting called. Let me get try to get through this so we'll be clear. People have been put on notice about the possibility of a meeting. We have not requested a meeting; there is no meeting scheduled.
Q Joe, do you think that what we're seeing is just a predictable bump in the road, with some details that need to be ironed out? Or are we seeing possibly the unraveling of the agreement?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it would be foolhardy to try to predict that. But let me look back on last week, when we talked about the need to be cautious. We have been down the road with Milosevic before. We understand some of the tactics that he employs from time to time. We've made it clear what we need to see and what needs to happen in order for this air campaign to be suspended and for the troops to leave and the refugees to come home, and all of the events that will be triggered by a agreement on implementation. And we're going to continue to work hard. I would caution anyone to draw any conclusions one way or the other at this point.
Q So the President still believes that a true peace process is underway?
MR. LOCKHART: The President believes that we continue to work toward a day when the Serbs will leave, the refugees will return. There's important work to go on. There's no way to predict on any given timetable the success of those, but there is important work going on.
Q But he didn't say that a couple of weeks ago, that a true peace process is underway? Does he still feel that way?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he believes that there is important work going on now and we need to finish that work.
Q You spoke of the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin agreement as a basis for a final peace for the area. Does that mean that there are parts of the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin agreement that are open to revision or negotiation?
MR. LOCKHART: No, there is nothing there that is open for revision or negotiation. What we need is to codify or provide details on the technical military issues for how the withdrawal will work, how we'll know, how we'll verify what's going on so that we can move forward.
Q Joe, are differences between Russia and NATO the primary reason that there's not an agreement in Bonn today, that they have to go back and consult with the capitals?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think, as the Foreign Minister said, there are a few remaining issues that Foreign Minister Ivanov wanted to consult with Moscow on. He will be doing that and they will get back to work tomorrow.
Q Should we interpret the fact that the President and Mr. Yeltsin did not discuss the security force makeup or the command -- should we interpret that as saying they agreed to disagree on this issue --
MR. LOCKHART: I would encourage you to try to limit your interpretation and just let the facts play out.
Q Regarding the KLA, you mentioned that they had accepted Rambouillet. Have they as yet said anything with regard to their acceptance of the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, we've had discussions with them. They are supportive of the principles of all Serb forces leaving and the refugees returning home. And, again, we're confident that they'll adhere to the agreement and accept the provisions that they agreed to in Rambouillet.
Q Joe, given the prospect of some type of U.N. action, how is China being dealt with? Who is talking to China from the NATO group and how are they being brought in?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I can't give you any specifics on discussions with China. But it's been our belief, that has not changed, that we don't believe that China would block a U.N. resolution that implemented a peace agreement mandating the Serbs leave and the refugees return home.
Q Joe, to follow on my question, Rambouillet was different. I mean, Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin does not include what would have been a de facto freedom of movement for troops to move throughout all of Serbia. There are also other differences in this agreement. Why do you say then that simply because the KLA had accepted the Rambouillet that they will also accept --
MR. LOCKHART: I say that based on our conversations with KLA leaders, based on conversations among NATO countries with KLA leaders, we're confident that they will accept and adhere to their agreements and that we can move forward.
Q Joe, out of all of the things that have been discussed today in the President's conversations with Blair and Yeltsin, and the movements that we're seeing on these negotiations, would you describe the reception of this at the White House as optimistic or pessimistic?
MR. LOCKHART: I would use neither optimistic or pessimistic. I'd say we are realists here. We understand what needs to be done and we are working hard at all levels of this government, both at home and in Europe, to make sure that NATO gets what it needs in order to move forward with a peaceful solution.
Q So to follow up on that then, in essence, you haven't heard anything today that would, say, make you happy?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look at the Foreign Ministers, they made substantial progress on the text of a U.N. resolution. That clearly is -- anytime you make progress, that is important to the overall process.
What I'm trying to do is avoid the situation where we go to one extreme or another. We have known all along that this is a difficult process. We have used every means we could think of to urge caution as we moved along, both on the euphoria and the depression.
Q Will the President speak to this publicly today?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't expect he will.
Q Were there any other phone calls that the President made, or is he making any other phone calls today?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that he's got anymore on tap for today. We'll let you know if any get added.
Q -- Mandela and Mbeki call, if you could --
MR. LOCKHART: He spoke to both of them of Friday, to congratulate them on the important democratic transition of power, obviously the first of its kind in South Africa. I think the President made the point of praising the work of Mr. Mandela and emphasizing the very positive working relationship we have with Mr. Mbeki.
Q Did the President commit to going back to South Africa before the end of his term?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q You were going to get to the President's vacation plans, or is that far-fetched?
MR. LOCKHART: Say again.
Q -- or is that far-fetched.
MR. LOCKHART: This is about as far as they'll me go, which is, it will be in August and you won't be surprised by where we're going. (Laughter.)
Q New York.
Q -- actual dates?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have actual dates, no.
Q Is it two weeks?
MR. LOCKHART: That I don't know. My guess is it will follow the general pattern in the last couple years, where it's kind of the end of the month but the actual dates get played with up until a few weeks before.
Q Joe, CNN and the Washington Times and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, among other media, have covered the very sharp controversy raging in Richmond. And I wonder, does the President agree or disagree with City Councilman Said al-Amin (phonetic) that former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder is "either senile, insane, or a damn fool"?
MR. LOCKHART: No, he does not agree with that.
Q Well, let me ask you this. Governor Wilder said that most Richmonders are not interested in obliterating history, and he protested the removal of General Lee's mural from a new city exhibit, and then he saluted the Confederate battle flag in a gesture of unity. Does the President believe Governor Wilder was right or wrong, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: The President is not aware of the circumstances by which any of this happened --
Q Well, I've just made you aware. Does he think that Governor Wilder was wrong, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: It should come as no surprise to you that I take some of what you say with a grain of salt.
Q Joe, one more thing about the talks. Is it your sense that --
Q Is it time for the week ahead?
Q -- the military people --
MR. LOCKHART: I'll do it again. (Laughter.)
Q -- that Milosevic's military people --
Q Thank God it's Monday.
MR. LOCKHART: Sorry.
Q -- military people have some serious problems with the peace deal that Milosevic signed? Or is Milosevic just trying to weasel out on the deal and telling them to slow-walk it?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me answer this two ways, which is, one, I have no reason to believe that they -- the Yugoslav government -- is not speaking with one voice on this. Secondly, I would again urge some restraint in jumping to conclusions about what anyone's motives are and what anyone is doing. We have issues to work through here, hard work is being done, and only time will tell whether this peace process will prove successful.
Q Is there any concern in the United States government that the Russian government is not speaking with one voice?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that's been reported to me.
Q Joe, the Mothers Against Drunk Driving is upset with the White House for not endorsing this legislation that would include teenage drinking in anti-drug ads. Do you have a reaction to that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as I -- I think it was on Friday we spoke to this -- a good bit of money, through the media campaign from ONDCP here, goes to the states, to campaigns against underage drinking. So we are supportive of that process, and, in fact, we're already doing it. On the particular legislation, I don't know whether we've expressed an official view from the administration, but we have, through the program that we're already implementing money -- federal money does go to local efforts to combat underage teenage drinking.
Q If I could follow up -- claim that you're knuckling under to the alcohol industry. Is that true?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Joe, as a native of Arkansas and that state's former governor, what is the President's reaction to Mayor Giuliani's mentioning that he may run for the United States Senate from Arkansas, and in any case is planning a fundraiser there?
MR. LOCKHART: I'd be glad to show him around the state.
Q All right, well, what would the President feel? He would certainly expect there would be a great welcome there --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President's busy; he probably wouldn't have time to show him around the state. If we keep going like this, I'm going to have a lot of free time on my hand. (Laughter.)
Q There were reports a couple of weeks ago that the window on a decision for using ground troops may be closing rapidly because of the winter. Is there any concern here that Milosevic may be trying to string this out to try to foreclose that option?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard any discussion like that, and I think as we've said at the time of those reports, there's a lot of different options, a lot of different timetables. And I think that the idea that somehow, the single window on some options closing was vastly overrated as a report.
Q So you reject that there's really any deadline to make a decision on ground troops, say, within the next couple of weeks or so?
MR. LOCKHART: I do.
Q The mental health parity announcement today -- why didn't the President extend that to the Uniformed Services plan, as well as the federal contractors?
MR. LOCKHART: That is a good question of which I do not know the answer. Let me look into it, and we'll try to post an answer to that.
Q Joe, why did the President wait until the Vice President unleashed his faith-based --
MR. LOCKHART: You know, in boxing, there's a three knockdown rule. (Laughter.) Anybody want to --
Q Joe, why did the President --
MR. LOCKHART: Has anybody got a towel? (Laughter.) Lester, please, your question.
Q Why did the President wait until the Vice President unleashed his faith-based approach at the Salvation Army Center in Atlanta before bypassing the Senate and appointing Mr. Hormel?
MR. LOCKHART: Those two issues had nothing to do with each other.
Q Nothing to do with it?
MR. LOCKHART: Nothing.
Q Coincidental? Totally coincidental?
MR. LOCKHART: Nothing to do with each other, which, I think if you looked in a dictionary, coincidental might work.
Q Joe, to follow up on what I was saying before, why is it that we don't view that there's a deadline, since if troops were not brought down there in a pretty timely manner, we'd have to have a winter campaign?
MR. LOCKHART: Because you, in your mind, believe that there is one way of doing something, and there are a variety of ways of doing things with a variety of time lines, and I can assure you that there is not a window that is about to be closed.
Q You still haven't answered the question why. I mean, would we be willing to engage in a winter fight against --
MR. LOCKHART: Because I have no intention or desire to walk down a hypothetical option list with you of what the various contingency plans may or may not be.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:38 P.M. EDT