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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Press Conference on Kosovo
Brussels, Belgium, October 8, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good afternoon. I want to speak for a few minutes about where we are on Kosovo, and then take your questions.

I have just met with Secretary General Solana. I have also been briefed by Ambassador Holbrooke, who has just returned from his mission to Belgrade where he held three lengthy sessions with President Milosevic.

Despite his best efforts, I am not satisfied that President Milosevic understands the seriousness of the current situation. It is also clear that he has not complied fully with the demands of the international community.

I have asked Ambassador Holbrooke to return to Belgrade to convey a very clear and simple message to President Milosevic: he must comply in a manner that is both durable and verifiable with the long-standing political, humanitarian and military demands of the international community or face the gravest consequences.

Later today, I will meet with my Contact Group colleagues in London. I look forward to a good exchange with them on how to ensure Serbian compliance with the demands of the international community and the way ahead.

The Secretary General and I have discussed NATO’s role in this crisis. I fully concur with his assessment that the Alliance has the legitimacy to act to stop a catastrophe. Speaking for the United States, I believe it’s time for the Alliance to move to the next phase of its decision-making – that is, to take the difficult but necessary decision to authorize military force if Milosevic fails to comply.

I have come to that conclusion for several reasons. First, it is true -- but also not surprising -- that Serbian forces have avoided provoking us in the last few days. That is only because they face military action and they hope they can use this to drive a wedge in the unity of the international community. That will not happen. We must be prepared to take action because we know that if we are not there, there is nothing to stop them from going back to business as usual.

Second, the situation on the ground has not changed fundamentally. Yugoslav infantry artillery and armored units are still deployed at key points in Kosovo. Special police are still deployed in heavy numbers along the roads. Many are digging in for the winter; others are still occupying the houses of civilians they have driven into the hills. The central region of Drenica remains effectively sealed off by security forces. Tens of thousands of refugees are still afraid to go home.

What we have seen is a televised show of soldiers leaving Kosovo. What we need is a complete and verifiable withdrawal of the forces responsible for the violence.

Third, we have to take into account not only this week’s snapshot of events on the ground, but Milosevic’s long-standing unwillingness to negotiate seriously, and the accumulated barbarity of the last three months. Time and again, Milosevic has promised us to do things he had no intention of doing. Time and again, he has taken half measures to avoid the consequences of his actions. Yet even in the last two weeks, even as he made cosmetic gestures in the direction of compliance, his forces have committed some of the worst atrocities of the war.

We must assume that Milosevic will continue to do the minimum necessity to avoid NATO action. But he has to understand that the minimum is not good enough. The only thing that is good enough is full compliance.

Milosevic knows what he needs to do to avoid NATO action. He must immediately end all military and police operations in Kosovo; withdraw all units to their bases and cantonments in a way that can be verified; provide international organizations and diplomatic observers unfettered access to Kosovo; agree to a time table for a political settlement based on the draft that the Contact Group has endorsed; and cooperate with the War Crimes Tribunal.

He had months to do all these things. Now he has but a few days, which is frankly all he ever needed.

Let me stress that we have worked hard in the last few weeks to build a consensus for what we must now be prepared to do. Diplomats from every Contact Group country have gone the extra mile for peace. Our concerns have been reflected in a strong UN Security Council resolution. We have made it clear to Milosevic and Kosovars that we do not support independence for Kosovo – that we want Serbia out of Kosovo, not Kosovo out of Serbia.

But one of the keys to good diplomacy is knowing when diplomacy has reached its limits; and we are rapidly reaching that point now. We are not going to stop this conflict by constantly evaluating the situation and simply waiting to see what happens. We need to act now to compel a realistic and durable settlement, and then see that it is implemented.

Finally, let me say that I believe that we are at a crossroads in the history of the Balkans as well as NATO. The decisions we take in the days ahead will be crucial for us all. NATO is our institution of choice when it comes to preserving peace and defending Western values on the continent. It must be prepared to act when a threat of this nature exists on Europe’s doorstep.

In recent days, I have spoken with many of my European colleagues – in some cases, numerous times, on Kosovo. Today I discussed Kosovo at length with Ambassador Holbrooke as well as General Wes Clark. Ambassador Vershbow has also filled me in on his own consultations with the allies over the last week.

As a result, I am confident that we have the legitimate grounds and effective means to act, and that NATO will agree – and agree soon – to take the next step.

QUESTION: Your position is clear about not needing another resolution; but there seem to be some problems among some of the allies. Would it be helpful to have some way of expressing in an informal way the sentiments that you say these others share? Would it be easier for the United States to lead this charge? If there were some form of resolution, would it help your political situation?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Are you speaking of another at the United Nations or --

QUESTION: Well, at the United Nations or some other forum.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say that I think that the United Nations has now spoken out on this subject a number of times. There had been an attempt, I think, to divide us but that has failed. The last Security Council resolution was adopted with one abstention, the Chinese.

I think that generally in my contacts with the European foreign ministers, we are agreed on the need for compliance. Obviously, NATO is in the process of repeating its dedication to this cause, so I do not see any need for additional resolutions.

QUESTION: You have given President Milosevic an ultimatum, but have you given him a deadline? Could you share that with us?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I would not describe what I have stated as an ultimatum. I have described the situation based upon the facts, and made clear that there will be the gravest consequences to his not listening to the messages that Ambassador Holbrooke is delivering on behalf of the United States, as well as the messages being delivered by others.

There is no deadline, but we have also made it clear that time is running out here. As winter approaches and the suffering of the Kosovar people in the hills is getting worse, then the time is all but gone.

QUESTION: Are you aware that taking action without a new UN resolution would be a problem in some countries like Italy?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that there are countries that are expressing that view, and we obviously are speaking with them. I will be seeing Foreign Minister Dini in a couple of hours in London, and we hope very much that, as it is evident that Milosevic is not in compliance, that those governments will understand the need for action and understand that the resolution that the Security Council has already taken is sufficient.

QUESTION: (In French, translated for the press by Secretary Albright.) The question is whether an air campaign is enough, whether there is not some need for a ground force.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say this -- we believe that an air campaign is very important and useful, and we think that is a method for arriving at compliance. But in order to verify compliance, we think that there should be a verification mission, which would be an international presence. However, this presence would not contain any American ground combat forces. Additionally, if there is a settlement, we would again think that an international presence would be required. We would, at that time, consult with Congress and with our allies about the need for a US role.

To answer your question, we believe that an air campaign is important and would secure compliance and that it could be verified by an international presence.

QUESTION: What are the prospects of getting the Russians in on such a monitoring mission?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, we do agree wit the Russians about the necessity for compliance. Foreign Minister Ivanov is also coming to London to meet with the Contact Group. Ambassador Holbrooke is going with me to London to brief the Contact Group on what he has been doing.

As many of you know, Foreign Minister Ivanov has also been in Belgrade. He will be participating in the Contact Group in his capacity as Foreign Minister. I think that we want to work with them on a joint compliance. We hope that that will be possible. But if force is necessary, then we will not be deterred by the fact that the Russians do not agree with that.

QUESTION: When do you expect NATO to act on the Activation Order? Will that happen on Sunday?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We expect that there will be action in the next few days. I can’t give you an exact time, but in the next few days.

[End of Document]

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