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Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Statement on Bosnia and Kosovo at the North Atlantic Council Ministerial
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, May 28, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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Let me begin by welcoming the foreign ministers of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to our meeting today. I hope that all allies will work with their parliaments to ratify their formal admission to the Alliance as early as possible.

This morning, we began a discussion about the future of our partnership. I suggested that we have three broad challenges: completing the integration of Europe; deepening the ties between the U.S. and Europe; and establishing more effective mechanisms for America and Europe to pursue common interests and confront common threats.

Our effort to bring peace and democracy to the nations of the former Yugoslavia involves all three of these challenges. Bosnia in particular has been a test of the trans-Atlantic partnership, a proving ground for the new NATO, and a challenge to our vision of a Europe whole and free. NATO is in Bosnia because we understand that our theoretical discussions about Europe's future will mean little if Europeans are still killing each other over power, land and faith.

Almost three years ago, NATO committed itself to help secure a lasting peace in Bosnia. Today we are renewing that commitment by approving the operational plan for NATO's Follow-On Force. We are also approving the creation of specialized units that will be better equipped to perform public security tasks. We are doing so not to expand the scope of NATO's mission, but to make sure that SFOR is able and prepared to accomplish the mission it has been given. Let me thank those countries, especially Italy, that have agreed to furnish forces for the specialized units.

Let me also express my appreciation for the briefings Generals Clark and Naumann have just given us. The news they bring from Bosnia is generally good. Economic growth is resuming. Refugee returns are accelerating. Narrow minded leaders are being marginalized. President Plavsic and Prime Minister Dodik have held firm in the face of pressure from Belgrade. More and more war criminals are surrendering. The more confidence we have shown in NATO's ability to act vigorously and creatively in Bosnia, the more progress we have made. But progress, as they said, is still fragile.

In the coming months, a top priority must be to reinforce the development of accountable democratic institutions at every level in Bosnia, and to support a free media. The September elections are absolutely critical; we must give them our full support.

We agree on the need to dismantle remaining anti-Dayton institutions. In that regard, we cannot forget the need to get even more war criminals to the Hague. Our forces will also continue to work closely with civilian agencies, including UHCR and OHR, to provide a secure environment for the phased and orderly return of refugees. This is the year of refugee returns in Bosnia; the results must match our commitment.

We also agree that Croatia must do more to meet its Dayton commitments, especially on refugee returns.

From the start, our most important strategic interest in Bosnia and Croatia has been to prevent a wider war that would threaten the stability of southeastern Europe as a whole. That is precisely the danger now posed by the violence in Kosovo.

Here we have finally seen an important sign of progress. President Milosevic and President Rugova have begun to talk, meeting the first key demand of the Contact Group, and the first requirement of a peaceful solution to the Kosovo crisis.

We have to remember that this first step forward came about only through sustained diplomatic and economic pressure from the international community. And we have to understand that it is, indeed, only a first step. Dialogue is a means to an end; only if it leads to an agreement that enhances Kosovo's status and respects the human rights of all its people will further violence be averted.

The dialogue must focus on substance, not process. And in the meantime, we have to be vigilant to ensure President Milosevic does not pour more gasoline on the fire he has started.

Repression of the civilian population must end. Food and assistance must flow freely. Belgrade must take immediate steps to reduce tensions and build confidence to keep the fragile process of dialogue going. For if the dialogue is prolonged while the crackdown continues, Kosovo will not see peace, and Serbia will not see the end of its isolation and poverty.

When the talks began, we suspended implementation of certain Contact Group sanctions. If violence continues and there is no progress in the dialogue, suspended sanctions can be reinstated quickly.

Moreover, while are rightly focused on Kosovo, we should also be concerned about the situation in Montenegro. The campaign President Milosevic has launched against the elected president of Montenegro is creating another source of instability in the region. We need to insist that the results of the elections in Montenegro are respected.

It is equally vital that we act now to shore up Kosovo's periphery, both to diminish the real possibility that the conflict will spread, and to prevent outsiders from inciting it further. The measures we will announce today will help us do just that, by providing assistance to the countries most clearly threatened, FYROM and Albania.

In FYROM, we all recognize that an international military presence will be needed after UNPREDEP's mandate expires on August 31. The United States supports extending the mandate for an additional six months, with troop levels increased to the original ceiling of 1,050. But NATO also has interests at stake and a role to play.

It is essential that we begin contingency planning for preventive military deployments to FYROM and Albania, as well as assistance to the OSCE mission that is monitoring the Albanian border with the FRY. The threat of cross border actions from Kosovo to Albania is real -- and another reminder that it is President Milosevic who is internationalizing this conflict.

As we move forward with our planning, we need to work closely with our partners in the EAPC.

Let me conclude by emphasizing that the Alliance has taken no decision on playing a role in any military missions, but planning will help us make an informed decision if and when the time comes.

Often in these situations there is a temptation to wait and see what happens before making commitments and taking action. I'm afraid that if we wait for the parties on the ground to act, we will only see that it is too late to prevent disaster. So let us use all the tools we have to resolve this problem now, before it explodes into a crisis that can only be resolved at far greater cost. I think we should all absorb the lessons of the early 1990's in dealing with this situation. I look forward to working with you to ensure that we do.

[End of Document]

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