THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Cologne, Germany) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release June 18, 1999
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON AGREEMENT FROM HELSINKI
In Front of Cologne Cathedral Cologne,Germany
10:08 P.M. (L)
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Let me say, first of all, how pleased I am and appreciative I am for the efforts made by Secretary Cohen and Defense Minister Sergeyev to reach the agreement under which the Russian forces will join KFOR in Kosovo.
I have been briefed on the terms of the agreement. They provide for unity of command. They provide for a significant range of responsibilities for the Russians, which I think are entirely appropriate and will enhance the mission's effectiveness. And I am fully supportive of this agreement and very pleased by it.
This has been a good day. We are achieving our objectives now. We know that we have 35,000 Serb forces out, 19,000 KFOR forces in. Now we have the agreement with the Russians and the Kosovars are going home. So I feel very good and very grateful for this.
And, again, I know that Secretary Cohen and Mr. Sergeyev have worked very hard, and I'd also like to thank Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister Ivanov, because I know they've been also in Helsinki working away. So I'm very pleased.
Q What will the Russian troops be doing and why is it significant that they would not control a sector of their own?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, for one -- the main reason is they are actually needed in more than one sector.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Because even though the Serb population of Kosovo is concentrated primarily in one north central sector and then a northeastern sector, they're actually -- the religious and cultural sites are spread throughout the country and there are pockets of Serbs throughout the country, and we think it's quite important that every effort be made to secure both the physical sites and the personal security of the Serb minority, as well as the Kosovar Albanian majority. And we think it will give confidence to them if the Russians are in more than one sector.
Q Will the Russians answer to the NATO commanders?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: They have worked out their agreements on unity of command, and Secretary Cohen and Mr. Sergeyev are discussing it now -- I think the briefing is going on now, so there's no point in my trying to answer their questions for them. They'd do a better job than I would, and if made a mistake just have to clean it up.
Q Is this better than Bosnia, sir?
Q The House vote to kill the gun legislation -- was that inevitable to kill the legislation because of changes the House wanted to make on gun control and the background checks?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Did they do that today?
Q I think they're about to.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: They're going to kill it all?
Q They have killed it all.
Q They have.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, then maybe that means we'll go back to square one and pass a good bill.
Q What happened? A month ago it was so different, wasn't it?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: They made a -- the decision made by the leadership not to act before Memorial Day gave people -- gave the NRA time to mobilize and lobby and put pressure on the House, and gave people's attention time to wander from the heartbreak of Littleton and the determination to do something about it.
But I think people still feel very strongly that there's more we can do to protect our children, and my attention hasn't wandered. I've been working on this for years and I've seen a lot of ups and downs, so I'm more than happy to keep at it. And I would just urge all the advocates of sensible legislation to keep their spirits up and keep working and keep fighting. And I'll be there with them and we'll get some things done.
Q Is this more than Bosnia for the Russians, Mr. President? Is this an enhanced role than what they had in Bosnia?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Yes, I would say so, because -- but it's different. You see, in Bosnia, we shared a sector in Bosnia, and we worked very well together. I think all of our people will tell you they were very well pleased. And then the French had a sector and the British had a sector, and there were lots of other countries involved, just as there will be here. There will be nearly 30 countries involved.
But the -- we didn't have the same dynamic here. We've got just two ethnic groups and the Serbs are a small minority, but they're a substantial number of people and they're spread out. You know, of course, I hope that conditions will be such that those ordinary civilians who didn't commit any crimes who left will feel that they can come back, too.
So I think having the Russians there and then playing the administrative role at the airport gives them a broader range of responsibilities, because as I said, I think it's perfectly consistent with the mission. I think it will help us to send the message, to model the message, to both groups that we really do want all law-abiding people to be able to live in peace in Kosovo, and we intend to honor our commitments to that end.
So I feel quite good about this and I've reviewed the, as I said, the terms of command and control and the basic elements. I think it will work. My test about all this has always been will it work; will it bring the Kosovars home; will it enable them to live in safety with self-government; will it enable us to protect everyone's religious and cultural and other appropriate sites. I think the answers to all those questions, if this agreement is faithfully implemented -- and I believe it will be -- the answers to those questions are, yes.
Q Do you trust the Russians?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, we -- all I can tell you is, every time I've had an understanding with Boris Yeltsin he's kept it. And we did work with them on a consistent, long-term basis for years now in Bosnia and it's worked out. So I believe now that the agreement is worked out I think it will be honored. I expect it will be honored.
Q Despite last week --
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Yes, absolutely.
Q Thank you, sir.
END 10:15 P.M. (L)