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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
and Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini
Press Briefing, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Rome, Italy, March 24, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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FOREIGN MINISTER DINI: We are delighted to have this visit by the American Secretary of State in Rome on the eve of the upcoming Contact Group meeting to be held tomorrow in Bonn, which will focus essentially on Kosovo. We are extremely grateful that Mrs. Albright has decided to stop over in Rome on her way to Bonn. Together, we have reviewed the most urgent and critical issues.

To start with, we have examined developments in Kosovo since the London Contact Group meeting. On that occasion, we had indicated the course that the Pristina and Belgrade authorities should follow, and together with the Contact Group we had identified both objectives and instruments that we felt were necessary. We have agreed that some things have been done but that other things, the most important things, still remain pending. It is consequently essential that, on the part of the Contact Group countries and on the part of neighboring countries that will be present tomorrow in Bonn, that there be a firm attitude towards Belgrade, since not all that was requested has been done yet. It is also necessary to be firm towards the Kosovo authorities, so that they may accept the approach we indicated, i.e., opening a political dialogue and negotiations tables with a view to negotiating a comprehensive and ample autonomy for Kosovo, obviously within the territorial boundaries and limits of the Yugoslav Federation. Consequently the road to independence is not feasible and viable for Kosovo.

We are also extremely pleased with what has been done, particularly that it has been decided to grant access to the observers of humanitarian organizations in Kosovo. We are equally pleased that it has been indicated that special police forces will be withdrawn from Kosovo, that the crackdown will end, and this it seems has been achieved for the time being. We are also pleased that this political dialogue has been accepted in principle, but of course we know that this is going to require the collaboration of the international community.

We are equally pleased that yesterday it was possible to sign the agreement on education, on the schools. We know that the two parties, Belgrade and Pristina, signed the school agreement, the education agreement, and it is our hope that the agreement may come into force by the end of this month.

There are a number of other objectives that still have to be achieved. As I said before, it is vital for the Contact Group and the international community at large to remain firm vis-a-vis Belgrade, so that it may live up to all the conditions that were spelled out by the Contact Group. This means maintaining sanctions, considering more sanctions if necessary, and, of course, this is going to be the subject of tomorrow's meeting.

With the American Secretary of State, we briefly discussed the latest developments both in Russia, obviously, where as we know the government is changing, and we also discussed the initiatives for the Middle East in order to break this deadlock. The Secretary of State also informed us of recent initiatives and opening made by President Clinton toward Cuba, with the resumption of humanitarian aid, transport of pharmaceuticals, and the possibility for emigrants to make payments back home.

We therefore discussed these different aspects in preparation for the important upcoming Contact Group meeting to be held tomorrow. We know that the purpose of tomorrow's meeting is that of giving an important thrust forward, and that negotiations on Kosovo may start immediately with no pre-conditions. Thank you.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning. I am very glad to be back in Rome again so soon after my last visit, and I have had this chance to exchange views again with my good friend Foreign Minister Dini. It seems that the entrance to Europe is through Rome so it is a pleasure to be here again.

We had a range of issues on our agenda today but our focus was on Kosovo and on tomorrow's Contact Group ministerial. We have seen some signs of progress in Kosovo since the Contact Group last met.

Yesterday an agreement was signed to implement the Kosovo education accord, probably the most significant confidence-building measure in that troubled region since its autonomy was stripped in 1989. And I applaud the role of Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, the role that he has played in bringing this about. The United States was very pleased to have supported his work and we look forward to working with him and assuring a successful implementation.

But we cannot hail this new agreement without noting that it is now overdue and without recognizing that Belgrade is still ignoring the Contact Group's key demands. Serbian security police are digging in, not pulling out; President Milosevic has still not committed himself to unconditional dialogue; aid workers continue to be harassed, and the list goes on. We have too much experience in the former Yugoslavia to settle for half sincere, half measures. We have seen too many diplomatic efforts fail to believe that President Milosevic will respond to positive pressure alone. And if we give him even a shadow of a glimmer, of a hint, that he has done enough, he will most assuredly do no more.

We are exploring every diplomatic option open for moving the process of dialogue on Kosovo forward and that is what we did in our meeting today and what we will do tomorrow. My message is that these efforts can succeed but only if we stick together, and we will need to maintain credible pressure on Belgrade to end repression and restore autonomy.

As Foreign Minister Dini described, we did talk about a number of other subjects. I will not go over those again but I obviously would be very pleased to answer your questions.

QUESTION: Minister Dini, wasn't a ten day deadline (inaudible). Your basis for being somewhat satisfied with Mr. Milosevic's compliance and your compliance, the education agreement basically. When did the special forces get out of there?

FOREIGN MINISTER DINI: We don't have visions to be especially satisfied nor to be dissatisfied or entirely dissatisfied. I didn't use these words in my introduction. I think that I said that some steps in the direction that the Contact Group wanted and have decided upon in London have been taken. Now we will have to make an evaluation of this.

Have the troups been withdrawn from Kosovo, the special police troups? I understand they have not been withdrawn from Kosovo. But I understand that they have been confined in their barracks and certainly we cannot say that they have intervened again in Kosovo. There have been numerous demonstrations organized by the students as well as by the citizens of Kosovo themselves that have taken place peacefully without the intervention of the authorities. So, it is something that has to be looked at also in this light but we ought to continue to apply the pressure that is necessary to bring about what the Contact Group has indicated as being necessary. And we will do that, evaluating together with the other member countries of the Contact Group tomorrow on what will be the best course of action.

I have indicated in my introductory statement that we ought to continue to apply strong pressure on the parties, especially on Belgrade, but also on the Kosovo area in order to start soon, as soon as possible, I would say immediately, the political dialogue.

QUESTION: A question for Mr. Dini and, if possible, an answer also from Mrs. Albright: What is your judgment about the semi-clandestine elections that the Albanian minority held in Kosovo, and an assessment regarding Mr. Rugova. Do you think his leadership role was strengthened, or not, because of these elections?

FOREIGN MINISTER DINI: Our judgment about the elections that took place in Kosovo is positive. Despite very extremist political forces tried to convince voters to desert the polls, the vote was very large. I would say that most citizens voted. Therefore, we think that Mr. Rugova has been strengthened and that he could play a decisive leadership role in the negotiations and lead the talks toward the autonomy of Kosovo.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I would agree with that analysis and I think it is very helpful as they get ready to have these unconditional negotiations that the Contact Group has been calling for.

QUESTION: For Minister Dini, please. Will Italy support the continued or strengthened freezing of Serbian assets if that is proposed at the Contact Group meeting tomorrow? And for Secretary Albright: do you agree with Minister Dini's statement that the crackdown, the end of the crackdown has been achieved in Kosovo?

FOREIGN MINISTER DINI: Well, on the first point, we ought to make an assessment, a full assessment, as a Contact Group, tomorrow, and take what will be the appropriate decisions. I think it is important that the Contact Group act as a unit in its deliberations and whether certainly, we think that while the existing sanctions must be kept, must be kept firm, tomorrow we will evaluate all together whether the situation requires the (inaudible) additional sanctions, the way they had been threatened by the Contact Group when it met last in London, will be decided tomorrow.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: From my perspective, I think that as I said, the security forces have not been withdrawn. They're just digging in and there are harassment of a variety of types continuing. I do think that the fact that the elections were able to take place is a positive sign, but we clearly do think that there is still a long way to go in terms of having Milosevic meet the requirements that were placed upon him by the Contact Group in London.

QUESTION: For Minister Dini, but also for Secretary of State Albright: This opening by the U.S. toward Cuba could be interpreted as a prelude of a new U.S. policy toward the so-called rogue states. This signal is seen positively in Italy. I would like to know from the Secretary of State if it is possible to see further developments in the future.

FOREIGN MINISTER DINI: This is a question for the Secretary of State to answer. I told Mrs. Albright that we welcomed these initiatives favorably, particularly those of humanitarian nature that President Clinton has just taken.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say from our part, the steps that President Clinton took vis-a-vis Cuba were taken vis-a vis the Cuban people, not the Cuban government. The embargo remains in place. I have spoken about the fact that there are really two embargos vis-a-vis Cuba: one that the U.S. government has vis-a-vis the government and the other that Fidel Castro has vis-a-vis his people.

What we have done with our actions is to try to break the second embargo by providing some space for the Cuban people to be able to exist, to work towards developing a civil society in Cuba, and that is based on the Pope's visit and not based on anything that Castro has done. Our relationship or approach to rogue states remains the same: American law will be implemented and we believe that it is essential for the rest of the world to make sure that the rogue states in no way are a threat to international society either because they have weapons of mass destruction or because in other ways they can carry out behavior that is inimical to the way that the rest of the international community functions.

QUESTION: I have a question to Mrs. Albright: How do you consider the behavior of the different components of the societies, neighboring countries, I mean Macedonia and Albania? Do you think that there are some dangers outside the borders of Kosovo?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, one of the reasons that we believe it is very important to deal with the Kosovo situation is because of its potential impact on the neighbors. We believe that in 1991 the international community stood by and watched ethnic cleansing and the dismemberment and really watched how the people of Bosnia were attacked. While the international community watched, we don't want that to happen again this time, and we are concerned about refugees in a variety of ways that a disruption of Kosovo might affect the neighboring countries.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, on Russia, concerning the shakeup in the government, I'm wondering if you have any concerns about the situation with reformists in the government and whether you'll convey any message to Foreign Minister Primakov about that when you meet with him later today.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We are obviously watching what is going on. President Yeltsin is in charge and he has, as a democratic elected leader, the ability to change his team. I'm looking forward to my discussion with Foreign Minister Primakov this evening and continuing what is a very good working relationship with the Russian Federation.

[End of Document]

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