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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Interview on the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer
Washington, D.C., February 4, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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MR. PONCE: Madame Secretary, first of all, thank you for being here.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Very good to be with you.

MR. PONCE: The talks that are scheduled for this weekend on Kosovo, are they, in fact, going to happen; are they on?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We have every reason to believe that they're on. They're going to start Saturday in Rombouillet, France. They will be attended by a delegation of Kosovar Albanians, a mixed group of them. Thanks to Ambassador Hill, they have been put together in a delegation. Then we have every reason to believe that there will be a high-level delegation of Serbs in Belgrade. That, we are not yet quite clear about who is coming to that.

But these talks are really essential at this point because what has happened is that in the last few weeks the massacres in Kosovo have risen. We've been very concerned about what's been going on there. We learned in Bosnia it's important to do something early on, because either you pay a small amount now or pay more later. So we think it's very important. This is a crucial time to get them together. Thanks to the work of Ambassador Chris Hill, our lead American negotiator, he has been able to put this together.

MR. PONCE: As they come together, what kind of a deal are you anticipating? What are the parameters of the kind of agreement that you would like to see?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, this is being done on the basis of a draft document for an interim period of three years that Ambassador Hill and his co-envoy, Ambassador Petritsch from the European Union, have been working on for some time with the parties. The basis of it is to put together a high degree of self-government for the people of Kosovo.

It is a document that lays out a whole series of local institutional structures that would be put into place, along with the local police and elections, for the Kosovar Albanians during this interim period. This document is going to be put down at the meeting, and they must agree to it. That is what these talks are about. They have one week to have these negotiations. Then if they are making significant progress, then the Contact Group -- we are in it, the British, the French, the Germans and the Italians and Russians -- would then decide whether to extend the amount of time they have.

MR. PONCE: If they're not making progress, the possibility of air strikes?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, there are really three outcomes to this. If the Serbs do not comply and one, either don't come to the table, or are not fulfilling their obligations then they are open to air strikes. That decision has already been taken by NATO, and is in, so to speak, the back pocket of Secretary General Solana, who -- after consultation with us and other NATO allies -- could use air strikes to make clear to the Serbs that they need to comply.

With the Kosovar Albanians, then, we would also have other forms of pressure, and it would also be very clear to them that if they are not complying, or not being really forthcoming in a number of ways in these negotiations, or not participating in them, that NATO would not be there for them. They are relying very much on the support of the international community. If that is withdrawn, then that is a very serious problem for them; and there are other forms of pressure.

Now, the other possible outcome is that they actually will agree. In that case, that is when we begin to consider whether there should be a NATO force that would carry out the implementation of the agreement.

MR. PONCE: Has the Administration decided that if there is a NATO force, U.S. troops would form part of the component?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: The President today said that we are seriously considering -- and I believe that there are compelling reasons to seriously consider -- having Americans in that force, because I think there are fundamental American national interests involved in what is going on in the Balkans and in Kosovo.

First of all, we have believed for a long time that it's essential to have stability and peace throughout Europe, but also here in southern Europe. We also think that it's very important that NATO have the credibility, and our leadership in it. It's important -- it's of fundamental interest to the United States that there be democratic principles in this area. It's fundamentally of interest to the United States that all that we put into Bosnia be really protected. We don't want it to become unraveled as a result of Kosovo.

Finally, it's of fundamental interest of the United States to have the rule of law in this region. So those are all the compelling reasons why to seriously consider our participating in a ground force, that would only go in under conditions where there's an agreement between the two parties, and it's a permissive environment.

MR. PONCE: Madame Secretary, how many troops would you envision, and how long would you expect them to be there?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well that decision about the numbers is something that has not yet been decided, but we would have a small proportion of the troops.

MR. PONCE: Could you gave a range, when you say small?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, several thousand; I mean, not a lot: lower. But the important point here, and what makes this really something that is important for the American people to know, is that the Europeans have already made quite clear that they are willing to participate very actively in a ground force -- the French and the British have already said so -- and that they would be contributing the lion's share, and ours would be on the low end of the scale.

MR. PONCE: What would the troops be doing? What would the U.S. troops be doing on a day-to-day basis? Who would they be monitoring, so to speak?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, basically, what should be happening there, if there is an agreement, this interim period would be used in order to help get a local police, and have these local institutions and elections take place. The forces would be there, basically, in a way to provide a secure environment.

The forces that are there now -- the Yugoslav forces and the special police -- those would be withdrawn on a sequential basis. Local police would rise up, and forces there would be doing some of the things that they've been doing in Bosnia -- providing an environment in which these roots of local institutions and self-government could sink into the earth in Kosovo.

MR. PONCE: Madame Secretary, in your opinion, what would be the consequences if U.S. troops were not to participate in this kind of a force?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think there are two consequences. One is that I think we are the ones that in some ways provide a sense of security for especially the Kosovar Albanians to go into this kind of an agreement. So it is important in terms of the Kosovo problem itself.

MR. PONCE: If I could interrupt for a second, why is it not enough for them to see that the British might be there, the French could be there, the Russians are there? Why is American participation key to --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Because I think that we are key to a lot of things happening everywhere in the world. We have said, over and over again, that we are the indispensable nation: not just because we say so, but because others believe it.

I think they see us as the country that really does and can provide the leadership, they are comfortable with us. So there is an important part about what is going on in Kosovo itself; but there's a second reason. The second reason has to do with NATO. We consider NATO the prime military alliance of all time. Our leadership in it is very important. While the Europeans need to take up more and more of the responsibilities -- especially when it's happening on the European continent -- it's very important to keep the American link with NATO and to maintain our leadership within the NATO alliance.

MR. PONCE: Madame Secretary, you've been very critical of the conduct of Yugoslav President Milosevic. Why do you think he'll cooperate this time and keep his commitments?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think -- we have to see whether he will. I think that, to a great extent, the Kosovo problem is a drain on him. He knows, also, that he is rapidly losing any support in the international community; and he wants to, at some stage, reenter the international community. He has to weigh what is more important to him -- whether going forward with an endless struggle with people who are determined to have a certain amount of self-government or whether making an agreement that provides an interim period of peace and allows him to at least think about, in some way, coming back into some kind of better reputation with the international community. He has to see that it is a practical -- an outcome for him that is useful.

MR. PONCE: Last question: Are you optimistic there will be a deal?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I have just given a speech in which I have quoted my friend, Vaclav Havel, saying that you can't be an optimist always because you don't know how things are going to come out, and you can't be a pessimist because they don't always go badly; but it's important to be a realist. I think here I'm realistic about the difficulties involved in this, but also persuaded -- deeply persuaded -- that if we do not take this action now, that there will really be increased fighting in the spring that has the possibility of spreading beyond the Kosovo region; because there are no natural boundaries to ethnic fighting. There will be instability of much greater proportions in the Balkans, possibly spreading to Albania and Macedonia and throughout. Ultimately, we will have to do more.

Therefore, I really do think that there are now compelling reasons for us to seriously consider not only being part of this whole process, but also sending in ground forces for an implementation of this process.

MR. PONCE: Madame Secretary, thank you very much.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

[End of Document]

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