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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Press conference on the Kosovo peace talks
Rambouillet, France, February 20, l999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman, Paris, France
U.S. Department of State

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SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: (in progress) Ambassador Hill and his colleagues have bridged many major gaps and resolved most of the political issues which divided the parties. The Kosovar Albanians have negotiated with discipline and unity of purpose. They have not yet accepted every element of the interim political settlement, but it was my judgment and that of my Contact Group colleagues that the remaining issues can be resolved with a reasonable amount of effort.

Belgrade, in contrast, has taken every opportunity for evasion and delay. The Serb delegation bears the lion's share of responsibility for the difficulties we have experienced today. Belgrade has said that it can accept the political settlement although my sense is that this is not completely firm. However, the Serb refusal to even consider the presence of a NATO-led military implementation force in Kosovo is largely responsible for the failure to reach full agreement.

For this reason, we were extremely reluctant to offer the parties more time to reach an agreement, but the Contact Group believes the remaining differences can, with hard work and good will, be resolved, and the Contact Group has given them until 3 o'clock Tuesday afternoon to finalize the settlement.

Let me stress that we expect nothing less than a complete interim agreement including Belgrade's acceptance of a NATO-led force and a civilian mission building on the OSCE's Kosovo verification mission. Until the parties have accepted all provisions of the agreement, preparations for NATO military action will continue and if that agreement is not confirmed by Tuesday, Secretary General Solana will draw the appropriate conclusions. This is not the outcome any of us had hoped for, but our work is not over, and I haven't given up hope that faced with the bleak alternatives, both sides will agree to take yes for an answer on every element of this settlement.

The objectives of the United States, of our Contact Group partners remain unchanged. We seek a solution that offers Kosovo Albanians the rights that have so long been denied, while protecting the security of all of Kosovo's people. We will not permit Belgrade to conduct repressive operations against the people of Kosovo, or to create a new humanitarian catastrophe, and we will build on the hard work done here by the Contact Group negotiators, and by the co-chairs Robin Cook and Hubert Vedrine. Their determination will be needed even more in the days ahead. When I spoke to President Clinton earlier this afternoon, he and I agreed that the international community and the United States must stay the course, and we will.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, if this is a fair construction, it would seem the Serbs gave enough on the political front to move the deadline, and keep you here, for instance, just short of a trip you have to make to Asia, that's an important trip. Given Milosevic's track record, given what's happened here, isn't it possible that he will give just enough on a NATO force to prevent a breakdown, but not enough to satisfy the United States and its partners? In a sense, I am asking you if he isn't, in a sense, playing you along a little bit?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that today was a little bit more complicated than that, Barry. I think that what we said -- and let me take a little time to explain this -- is that the Kosovar Albanians, I think, needed and felt that they needed additional clarification on some of the political aspects of the interim accord, and from my perspective, the reason for extending the deadline had to do with that. They felt that they needed more time and work -- and I am speaking only for myself in this, the others may have made different calculations -- but that there needed to be additional clarification and that they had not given an unqualified yes, but that they had as a whole understood what was needed, and clearly, this is a very difficult issue. We are dealing with how they see the future of how their people will be able to govern themselves.

As far as the Serbs were concerned, they basically, I think, were not focusing that much on the political agreement, and felt that on the whole, they could accept that. The problem was that they did not want to engage at all on the security part of it, and for us that is a complete non-starter, because a political agreement without the military annexes is just a piece of paper. The security annexes are needed in order to implement the political agreement, and be concerned about what we are concerned about, which is the security of the people and the ability of a lot of the aspects of the political agreement to take root -- all the local institutions that are supposed to take root -- and therefore, just making an agreement on the political part doesn't do any good.

So, the question is, I believe, that it will be possible to clarify some of the questions that the Kosovar Albanians have in the deadline given, but I do think that we are going to have to verify the bona fides and all of the Serbs as to whether they are willing to deal on the military annex.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, have you been in touch, have you or any of your other Minister colleagues been in touch with Milosevic today; do you expect to be in touch with him in the next 48 hours, is anybody going to Belgrade to talk to him directly? And, do we interpret from all of what's gone on the last hour that you will stay through the deadline?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say as far as I know, no one has been in touch with Milosevic today. It is unclear as to what plans are for people to or not to be in touch with him. I think my first order of business is to deal with the Kosovar Albanians to try to help in making and helping these explanations, helping them understand more what this document contains, so I have no plans to go to Belgrade. I think that there's a dynamic here that is a dynamic that develops in any kind of thing, so obviously, I don't rule anything in or rule anything out, as Jamie has taught me to say. But, there are no plans.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that the last version that you have invited the parties to consider as the final one is more accommodating to the Serbian demands?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I do not think that is fair to say. I think that in any negotiation, the negotiators try to work out something that works for both sides in terms of developing what I think will be a unique structure in terms of autonomy, and that I would hope that as the Kosovar group really understands fully the depth of self-government that they will be allowed as a result of this, that it will be seen as a prototype document of what an autonomous region, where the people will be able to have local elections, local police, etc. I think it's a very interesting document that is being worked out as carefully and neutrally and fairly as possible by excellent negotiators.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, if I understand you correctly, it sounds as if you are somewhat optimistic that by Tuesday's deadline you will be able to clarify the remaining points on the Kosovar Albanian side, but you sound, or seem to sound, less optimistic that you will able to close the remaining gaps and convince Milosevic to accept a NATO-led force. Is that correct?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I would say that is a fair assessment. I think that their lack of desire to engage at all today on that subject, I found unrealistic and unproductive, and since they fully have understood that it is impossible to have a political document without, if I can put it this way, the legs of the security aspect of it, otherwise it is just a table top with no legs, and it is impossible without it. So I would say that's it.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask very quickly about whether there is unity among the Contact Group members for this NATO-led force as you see it.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think you know that the Russians do not favor such a force. However, they have in various conversations and letters made it clear that they had no objections in us passing, working the military annex.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, given your statement just now that there has been no budging at all by the Serbs on the military question, and the repeated statements in past days and today by the U.S. that the two, the military and the political, must be part of the same agreement, what reason at all do you have to hope that there will be any change between now and Tuesday? Why extend the deadline at all?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think that we have a responsibility as Contact Group members and the negotiators to try everything that we can. And today, as I made clear, was not clear-cut. There were questions by the Kosovo Albanians about the political document that I think are worth answering and dealing with, and also I think we have known in the past when dealings in negotiations that often the dynamics of pressures change, and it is my hope that in the next forty-eight hours that President Milosevic will understand that this agreement is one that will, I think, provide a way for the Kosovar Albanians to have a good and decent and autonomous life within Serbia and one that will be set up in a way to protect the people, the ordinary people, who are suffering from the fighting. So I would hope that President Milosevic would wake up and smell the coffee.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, why, since there have been all of these extensions, should he believe that this time you really are serious? And also, you are saying that you still don't have complete agreement with the Kosovo Albanians, but knowing your famous persuasive powers, it seems likely that you might have been able to get that today, and there are reports that in fact some of the European allies said were really politically here, we need to give this extension, and I wonder if you could comment on both those things.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that, first of all, let me say that we are dealing with a very complicated document as far as the political issues are concerned, and the Kosovar Albanians as a delegation believe, and I agree with them, that they have a huge responsibility to make sure that they get what they can for their people and they want to be assured that this is an agreement that does provide, that it is an interim agreement, and that it does provide the best kind of ability for them to exercise their rights. And I think that, I thought we were pretty close today, but we weren't able to push it over the goal line. I think it's worth trying, and I think it's worth pushing again with Milosevic. I think that Milosevic would make a grave mistake to miscalculate about our intentions, and that we are not into endless extensions. As I said last time, as a professor I don't like to do that. But I did think that there have been, from the Kosovar side, it was really worth giving an extra couple of days.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you believe that the international community can expect a just and long-standing solution for Kosovo while democracy still is, and I'm afraid is going to stay, persona non grata in Serbia?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It is clearly part of the difficulty of the problem. I would think that at some stage the people of Yugoslavia and Serbia would see that their country keeps diminishing under this leadership, that it started out a fairly large country, and it is losing various pieces of it. We are very supportive of a free media and the possibilities for oppositions to function within Serbia, and I think our constant pressure on that line is something that is a part of what we are doing. I do think that it is possible for even this leadership to understand that it is in its interests to go forward with the kind of agreement that is being presented here. That the political aspect of it is a very carefully drawn-out document, as I have stated, and that the implementation, the military aspect, will provide security and the ability of not only Albanians but also the minorities in Kosovo to be able to pursue a normal life.

QUESTION: Secretary Albright, you mentioned before and have repeated today that you see this agreement as being part of a process of creating new forms of sovereignty and new kinds of political structures. You've also mentioned questions that the Kosovo Albanian side has had with the political aspects. Can you go into any more detail about that? Can you at least tell us anything about the themes that have come up in their concerns?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I have not been part of all the deliberations with them, but I think that what is important here is that they wish to be able to have an identity that is respected, and that allows their people to have elections and local police and, as you know, one of the major issues in the last years has been the ability of Albanians to get an education in their own language, and to be able to have the kinds of schools and worship the way they want to. So that those are some of the themes within the political document, one that creates an ability, and this is my belief about how many groups or many entities may function in the future is, that there is a great deal of autonomy at the local level, allowing people to be able to live their lives according to their (inaudible.)

QUESTION: You express a great deal of confidence about getting Kosovar Albanian agreement by Tuesday, but apparently they are still insisting upon a referendum on independence after three years. Isn't that a pretty big obstacle?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, they are definitely, that is the point that they are concerned about, but I think that the language as it is being developed, makes it very clear that this is an interim agreement, that at its termination would take into consideration a number of different factors in determining what the permanent status of Kosovo would be. Among those things, to use the diplomatic word "inter alia," there is, in fact, how to assess the views of the people. And I think that it is a matter of how it is all worded in this document, but I think what is very important for people to know is that this is an interim document, and this goes to the question the gentleman asked about Serbia. Three years in our very dynamic world can bring very different results, and after three years of people being able to elect their own officials, have their local police, their own schools, and relate differently to Belgrade, I think it is very hard to predict exactly what mechanisms would be the most useful for determining the status of Kosovo ultimately. This is an interim agreement that has a lot of dynamic aspects to it, and I am sure that there will be many changes both in Kosovo and in Serbia in the next three years. Thank you.

[End of Document]

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