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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal

Special Representative
Robert S. Gelbard

Press Conference,
Pristina, Serbia and Montenegro
February 22, 1998

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AMBASSADOR GELBARD: I have had some extremely interesting and important discussions in the course of today. The United States is extremely interested in and concerned about the situation in Kosovo at this time. We are particularly deeply worried by the rising cycle of violence which is occurring here, and we condemn the violence which is occurring. The official violence, promulgated particularly by the police, we believe accounts for the great majority of the violence which is going on in Kosovo. We feel it is unwarranted and (inaudible). If there are concerns about public security, they could be managed in a much better way, geared to building confidence with the population and among the population, rather than leading toward a further cycle of violence. At the same time, we also condemn the attacks against the police and others by the group that calls itself the UCK [Kosovo Liberation Army]. As I have said before, I consider these to be terrorists actions, and it is the strong and firm policy of the United States to fully oppose all terrorists actions and all terrorists organizations.

What all this shows very clearly is the profound need for much better will on all sides and the urgent need for dialogue, for particularly unconditional dialogue. There needs to be the start of a serious effort on the part of the government of the "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" and the responsible democratic Kosovar Albanian leadership to begin to lessen tensions. But this can only be based, given the profound suspicion which exists on the part of the Kosovar Albanian leadership in particular, on a dialogue without any kind of preconditions. The United States is prepared to facilitate that dialogue in order to get it going. We feel it's important to get it going; in fact, it's essential to get it going because of the very dangerous situation which prevails right now. Both sides, we feel, are being unrealistic. Their expectations and their goals need to be flexible, and they need to be realistic, so as to reach agreements which can be implemented, as a way of not just reducing tensions, but of saving lives.

As I think all of you're aware, the United States feels very clearly that those who are advocating independence among the Kosovar Albanians are choosing, or looking toward, a goal which we consider to be unrealistic and not feasible. We believe that the future of Kosovo lies within the "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia," but at the same time we feel, as our Contact Group colleagues also feel, that an enhanced status for Kosovo is absolutely essential.

Meanwhile, Belgrade is insisting on the status quo. There cannot be the idea of some form of false autonomy, because that will not satisfy the aspirations of the population here. We feel there has to be some kind of mechanism that would include meaningful self-administration in Kosovo. But, ultimately, what the United States thinks is really not important. It's what the two sides think that really is important, and we are prepared to support any peaceful solution which both sides would agree to.

The March 22 Kosovar Albanian elections, which have been scheduled, are something that we think is acceptable. It is not a threat to Serbia. It is not a threat to Serbians, because it doesn't have any status, and, of course, there is no fundamental recognition for the Kosova republic or government.

But this would have a positive result in the sense of maintaining good forward movement and a good sense of stability. What's most important right now is that we urge all sides to show restraint. This means restraint in rhetoric and restraint in actions. The Kosovar Albanians have to avoid provocations, and Belgrade, as the government, has to demonstrate maximum restraint.

Because Belgrade is the government, we and the rest of the international community have greater expectations because of their control of the instruments of force and potential force. Any police and/or military crackdown will only increase Belgrade's isolation. This is something I want to really emphasize. There is the potential for the "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" to emerge from the isolation imposed by the international community due to Belgrade's actions over the course of this decade. In recent months we've seen some positive actions by the government of the "F.R.Y." because of their support for pro-democracy, pro-Dayton groups in the Republika Srpska, and overall positive movement in Bosnia.

The opening which could exist would quickly be shut down, with potentially more sanctions and more closure. At a time when the economic situation for this country is getting worse, not better, it could get much, much worse if there is not forward movement on Kosovo, starting with full implementation of the education agreement, as well as in other areas which I've outlined for President Milosevic. The outer wall of sanctions is real, the lack of a formal relationship with the United States is real, and as the economic situation continues to deteriorate, in part because of poor economic management but also in significant part because of the outer wall of sanctions, it's up to Belgrade to decide if it wants to change its own situation. We feel for the population of this country, and we would like to see a better life for the population of this country; but it is in the hands of the leadership of this country to create the conditions which will permit us to allow for the openings to end the outer wall of sanctions. Kosovo is right there in the center of those issues which can allow for the end of that outer wall of sanctions.

I'll be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Deutsche Welle, Valentina Saraqini. Mr. Gelbard, can I have your opinion about the possibility for organizing an international conference for the Kosova issue?

AMBASSADOR GELBARD: We believe that there are a variety of ways in which dialogue can be achieved. I'm not certain the time is really right for an international conference. I think there are other ways to do it. It's clear that there is a profound lack of confidence among the parties. You'll recall that it took a number of failures before the conditions were ripe for Dayton. I think there has to be a lot of very quiet diplomacy and a lot of very quiet dialogue before there can be serious progress. Confidence-building measures are the first set of issues which have to be achieved. The education agreement, as I said, is really, in my mind, the first step. I was just meeting with student leaders who I have been talking to for many months. I believe they have comported themselves very honorably, very well with their peaceful demonstrations. In my country there's a wonderful tradition of peaceful demonstrations. They have shown real restraint. I'd like to see the government do the same. But I think that, as a result, there isn't too much confidence around; and what's needed is quiet dialogue between the two sides, which we would be willing to help facilitate, to get started.

QUESTION: Sir, the taxi driver who brought me here asked me to ask you whether the West was going to intervene in Albania, in Kosovo, before there is a war, or if it's going to be like Dayton where they would wait until there been a war before they intervened. And a couple of things he suggested were, for instance, the idea of putting UN or NATO monitors on the Albanian border with Kosovo and also perhaps some kind of monitoring force, or OSCE, or somebody to be based in Kosovo. We could look presumably at the violence going on in the countryside surrounding this city. As war is quite close, I'm just wndering if either of those ideas had been considered by you.

AMBASSADOR GELBARD: Now was this your taxi driver's idea or yours? I've always been looking for a taxi driver who has a Ph.D. in political science. First, I don't think war is near, and to the degree the people say that, I think they are promoting very unhelpful thinking and hysteria. We're not considering any kind of peacekeeping presence or intervention.

There is, of course, the UN mission in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The mandate of that mission is due to end at the end of the August, but there will be a successor mission of some form. The best way, I strongly believe, is extremely rapid movement toward the development of some concrete actions, which would also have important psychological benefits, to build confidence and lessen tensions. The first one, as I say, ought to be, I think, the education agreement. There is absolutely no excuse for the fact that almost two years later this agreement has not been implemented. I certainly understand the frustrations of the university students in that regard. We support Monsignor Paglia and the Sant' Egidio order in their attempts to try to get this agreement implemented. In fact, we support them fully, and I often speak with Monsignor Paglia. In fact, I will be reporting back to him after this visit. But there needs to be responsible action by both sides now, and I mean now, to work to try to get this dialogue going. Restraint by the police and the military is absolutely essential. Failure to have that restraint will result in absolutely grave consequences for this country.

QUESTION: Nobody believed that we would have a war in Bosnia, but it happened. What will be the next step of the international community if it happens here in Kosovo?

AMBASSADOR GELBARD: I never answer hypothetical questions. Things are going very well in Bosnia. The new government of Republika Srpska is doing very well. The new prime minister was just in Washington and, of course, I know him quite well by now, but I was very impressed as were Secretary Albright and Mr. Berger. I think that it is irresponsible to talk about the idea of war. What is responsible is for those who have it within their power to work toward greater confidence, lowering tensions, and taking active measures to build confidence through concrete actions.

QUESTION: Mr. Gelbard, I am a journalist of "Bota e Re," the students' magazine of the University of Pristina. What are your impressions after today's meeting with our student leaders, and what about some promises that you gave to them about the date for releasing of our university buildings and premises after they visited in Washington?

AMBASSADOR GELBARD: Well, first of all, I think I already described my reactions to my meeting with them. I think the student leadership with whom I have been meeting since September has behaved responsibly, and I believe the demonstrations have been conducted in a serious, appropriate manner. I did say that if there is a demonstration on March 13, we certainly are only able to express support if it is conducted in the same peaceful, responsible manner. As for deadlines, I am not the negotiator on this agreement, Monsignor Paglia is. We do feel, however, that there has to be a clearer series of deadlines implementing this agreement, that it's gone on too long without that.

QUESTION: Voice of America in Bosnian, Nadira Vllasi. When do you think that the first step may happen on the educational agreement?

AMBASSADOR GELBARD: Well, as I say I am not the person who is managing this. I have enormous confidence in Monsignor Paglia, and I am quite confident that he is addressing this issue with great urgency -- the urgency that it deserves.

QUESTION: You said before that elections in Kosova will be something which will develop a new way of solving the problems here. Will the United States send observers here to observe the elections?

AMBASSADOR GELBARD: Well, I am not sure that we have been asked to. We did send, through the OSCE, observers to the Montenegro elections, and I believe there is some discussion of doing the same with the parliamentary elections scheduled for Montenegro in late May, May 31. We do intend to try to find other ways to be supportive of a range of issues here, and my government, in addition to having the presence of this Center, and also providing a significant amount, about $6 million of humanitarian assistance here, also intends this year to provide some significant support, to try to give support to democratic groups and build, try to work toward building, greater understanding through supporting moderate democratically oriented groups here.

QUESTION: My taxi driver wants to know if you would be beginning, first of all, economic redevelopment, rather than the disaster fund that the money comes from in this part (inaudible) of confidence building, that there might be more inclusion of staff training for teachers, teaching of conflict management in the schools, that type of thing, plus small business development.

AMBASSADOR GELBARD: We are, as I just said, working on providing several million dollars' worth of assistance this year to support democracy building programs. And those programs will take a number of forms, which won't be economic assistance, unless your conflict resolution is what I would call economic assistance. . .

QUESTION: . . . confidence related . . ..

AMBASSADOR GELBARD: Well, but we'll be working on a number of areas along those lines.

QUESTION: That will increase?

AMBASSADOR GELBARD: They will increase?

QUESTION: As the way it is now ... it will be increased?

AMBASSADOR GELBARD: I'm not sure there are any programs now, along those lines, but there is going to be sizable assistance this year.

QUESTION: And I have a follow-on question. When people make agreements, it has been a pattern here that unless there is a consequence, the agreements don't happen. And is there any consequence if there is no action on education (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR GELBARD: Well, there has to be implementation on all sides. I think I've been making it clear that because the outer wall of sanctions still exists, we feel there is a great deal of leverage on our part, certainly with the government of the "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." So a lot of leverage exists there. We strongly feel that it is imperative that all democratically oriented groups here come out very strongly meanwhile and condemn terrorism. I consider that the UCK is a terrorist group by its actions. I used to be responsible for counter-terrorist policy in the American government. I know them when I see them. And I think is important to draw the line between groups that are democratic versus groups that are anti-democratic through their use of terrorist means.

QUESTION: But students have been democratic. . .

AMBASSADOR GELBARD: I am not talking about the students, by any means. I think I have made very clear that I consider the students to have acted in completely responsible ways.

Thank you.

[End of Document]

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