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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Press Conference following meetings on Kosovo
Rambouillet, France, February 23, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman, Paris, France
U.S. Department of State

Blue Bar

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT (In Progress): The work of the international mediators is intensely rewarding, for their good will and commitment can open paths of peace that were not visible before. At Rambouillet, the negotiators helped bring Kosovo Albanian factions together as a cohesive delegation, and they helped develop a vision of what a democratic Kosovo might look like. But their work has also been intensely frustrating, for ultimately, however skilled their efforts and pure their motives, they cannot take the place of political will and courage among the parties to a conflict. Because of their hesitation we have not reached full agreement today. But we have decisively broken the stalemate that hung over Kosovo for so long. We will leave Rambouillet with something that months of shuttle negotiations and years of international concern have not achieved; a viable plan for alternative democracy in Kosovo through an interim political settlement.

Today the Kosovo Albanian delegation undertook to sign the agreement after it is reviewed by technical experts and discussed with the people of Kosovo. The delegation invited NATO to deploy a force on the ground as part of this settlement. Kosovo would have its own constitution and government with full responsibility for all the issues that affect the daily lives of its people. Serbian police units would be rapidly withdrawn. The Yugoslav military would be restricted to patrolling a five-kilometer border zone. The Kosovo Liberation Army would also be de-militarized, and we are prepared to help retrain qualified members who wish to join Kosovo's new multi-ethnic police.

This settlement is the best deal either side can hope to achieve. The Contact Group extended its deadline and kept working over the past few days because we are well aware that a collapse here risked igniting renewed conflict and a humanitarian catastrophe. Unfortunately, President Milosevic and his delegation failed to seize this opportunity for progress. The Serbs moved forward today as they saw the Kosovo Albanians getting close to 'yes.' This pressure pushed Belgrade to accept many of the basic elements of Kosovo self-government, but they continue to balk at decisions on critical security issues.

We believe that the best way forward is to allow the parties time to reflect on the choices before them. That is why Foreign Ministers Vedrine and Cook and the Contact Group negotiators today brought the Rambouillet talks to a close. The Kosovo Albanians have requested two weeks for consideration. Belgrade must be ready to move by then as well, or prepare to face the consequences. This period of reflection should not be taken by either side as an excuse for military activities on the ground. We are particularly concerned by recent movements of Serb forces and by harassment of members of the Kosovo Verification Mission. The Mission security must be assured, and there should be no doubt that NATO's January 30th decision permitting Secretary General Solana to authorize air strikes remains in force. We also call on the Kosovo Liberation Army to refrain from provocations, and we will be looking at ways to bring greater pressure to bear on those who seek to block the coming of peace.

The people of Kosovo held out high hopes for this conference, and they deserve to have those hopes realized. I would say to them, and to those around the world who care for peace, do not despair. Support those of your leaders who have supported peace and America will stand with you. Here at Rambouillet, we have come far, far down the field toward peace. Your courage and determination will help us cross the goal line. I now am ready to answer your questions.

QUESTION: Is the Serb acceptance of self-rule and the other political elements of this agreement unqualified, and secondly, because you said the Albanians do have two weeks for consideration, did they agree to this, or their qualified agreement to this, is it based on their understanding that there will be a referendum?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, on the Serb question, I think that the Serbs have not given an unqualified yes. They have engaged on the political document and qualified some of their reactions to it, and they have not engaged at all on the security part, the security chapters, of the document.

What they have done, I think, to put it in the clearest possible way, is that in 1989 they stripped Kosovo of its autonomy. And what they have done in the last few days and then their response is to agree that Kosovo should have autonomy. And we want there to be not just autonomy, but autonomy and democracy. So they have restored some of what they had before but as you know the autonomy in 1989 was under a communist system, and it did not have democratic elements to it, and in the work as of today they have at least agreed that the area should have autonomy, but we are disagreeing or there are questions about parts of the text in which the structures of it are described. And, as I say, they have not engaged at all on the military aspects.

The Kosovar Albanians have said that they have, I guess in diplomatic parlance, what they've done is agree to this in principle, they would have, its the equivalent to having initialed the text, but they want to go back and consult with their people about it. You know, for the Serbs to agree, all they have to do is make one phone call. For the Kosovars, it means, really as they are learning about democracy and engaging with other people, it means consulting with them. I think from their perspective they have not given up what they consider their right to a referendum. But that is not something that is in the document.

QUESTION: But is it in the statement that they signed whereby they said they accepted the political document?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, the political document does say that when the time for review comes, there will be a conference and meeting, and a number of ways will be -- a number of factors will be taken into consideration by that meeting as to the permanent status of Kosovo, among them the view of the people. And the Kosovars interpret this, their interpretation of it is that it's a referendum.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you have the qualified agreement of half an agreement, which you said would only be a piece of paper without the other half, is that still your opinion?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I do not believe that this is a full agreement without the military, that that is the agreement, it has a political part and the military part. What we have is a couple of weeks here for both sides to assess, and I believe that without full engagement by the Serbs on the military aspects of this, there is not a full agreement.

QUESTION: What incentive is there for them to come to a full agreement?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Both the incentives are the same as they have been all along, which is the disincentive that there is the potential of military action, and the incentives are that they would in fact be part of what is an historic process of bringing Kosovo up into a new level of autonomy, and from their perspective, frankly, that Kosovo remains a part of Serbia.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I think you just answered my question, but let me ask it again to be absolutely sure that I understand it. If the Serbs do not accept the military chapters of this agreement when the conference resumes in three weeks, are they liable to be bombed?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just say this: That as we assess what is happening, you know, the way that I laid out the various scenarios, it was going to be, you know, if one side said no and the other side said yes, I think that as we look at what's going to be happening it's now to a great extent up to the Kosovar Albanians to create this black-or-white situation, the extent to which they now follow up on the political part and continue to make clear that a NATO implementation force is something that they want.

But let me also say that I believe that the linkage of force and diplomacy, as we have described it now so many times, did in the end move this process forward. I think it's important to remember that the threat of the use of force is often useful in diplomacy and it is a tool and not an end in itself. We are going to make a judgement about how the process is going on, the level of engagement, but I maintain that if the Serbs do not follow through and engage on the military and security, the police parts of this document, that they are subject to the same disincentives as before, but also that the Kosovars have a responsibility in fulfilling their part to make their answer a clear and unequivocal 'yes.'

QUESTION: (In French) Madame Secretary, despite all the extraordinary energy that you spent here, don't you have the feeling even so this evening that Rambouillet is a failure?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: (In French.) Not at all. I believe that here was something that was very difficult and very complicated. I think that it's very important to remember that the Albanians are coming from a society which is not really accustomed to work like this, it was a very diverse delegation, composed of all kinds of people, who had not worked together before, and yet they worked together very well, and we knew before that it would be very difficult. We have worked a lot and I am very satisfied with all we have done.

QUESTION: I'd like to follow up on Barry's question a little bit. Christopher Hill has been describing the last couple of days as an effort, it's like when you're nailing down a floor board, you nail down one side and sometimes the other side pops up, in what looks like another three weeks extension of a deadline, of a negotiating deadline, is there a mechanism to prevent the things you feel you have nailed down from popping back up?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Part of what the Albanians agreed to, was that they in fact had initialed, which means that they agreed in principle, and that they would be looking at what are known as some technical aspects of it. So, from their perspective, they have agreed in principle to this document which, I think, is one of the reasons on how to keep the floor boards from popping up.

QUESTION: All along the United States has been saying, you can't separate the two elements of this agreement, that the political and the military annexes really are one and the same together. Why now, are you in fact, in a way, separating the two elements of this agreement?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, we have not. We have not separated them at all. What we have done, is capture what we have agreed on, which is from the perspective of the Albanians, the full agreement, from the perspective of the Serbs, at least, a recognition that autonomy is something that needs to exist for Kosovo and we are mid-way or part-way in the process. I've been trying to figure out what yard line we're on, but I think that we have taken a long way, but we have not, absolutely not, given up the basic construct, which is that there is no agreement without the security, the military and security aspects of it.

I think we may have -- let me just say this, I think we may have confused people by talking about it as if it were two agreements. It's not, it's one agreement with many chapters in it. And so, the chapters are, there are chapters that are devoted to military and security aspects. It's just that the Serbs have chosen to separate it, but from our perspective, it's one book.

QUESTION: Do you have any indication from the Serbs that they're ready to move at all on the military side, the implementation force?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, they have said different words. They have talked about an international presence. They are using different words. It depends on whether you ask me in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, whether I think that's movement forward or not. But I think that they are accepting the fact that some kind of an international presence, after all, they did accept the KVM and OSCE mission, which is something that they had said they would not do before. It was asked earlier, when we were all together whether the force could be anything different then a NATO- led force. I can just tell you point blank from the perspective of the United States, absolutely not, it must be a NATO-led force. It can however cooperate with other kinds of forces, for instance, as we know in Bosnia, the Russians have in fact joined a NATO-led force.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, is it your understanding that Adem Demaci endorses this accord, this agreement in principle to the extent that the delegation here does?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I can't speak for him. I spoke with him today, but not recently, you have to ask him.

QUESTION: Do you think the delegation here would have done what they did today, offer this support in principle, had he not endorsed it?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It's very hard for me to totally describe to you the dynamics of the group. I do think that they took a very bold step on behalf of democracy and their people. They, I think, worked incredibly hard to put their group together.

You know, it's interesting, if you go back three weeks now, I guess, people were wondering whether there'd be an Albanian delegation, or whether they'd come here at all. And when they came here, who they were and how they would work together. I think that they have worked together in an exemplary way. Having been a part of delegations myself, I know that you go through days, periods when you agree and disagree and people test out things, and I think that the fact that they agreed in principle to this document is a sign of their boldness and vision and desire to have a Kosovo which reflects their hopes and aspirations. So, I believe that they worked together very well and in a remarkable way that people didn't expect, and I'm not myself very clear about the inner dynamics of it.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, could you please qualify the Serb position on the military issue, if you would please perhaps by (inaudible) what they actually have signed in their letter of comment on the talks because when you opened these remarks, you said they have not engaged on the military issues, but you've said that they've agreed on some terminology at some moments, at different times of the day or night, to various military aspects. That would seem to be an absolute key (inaudible) on what you may or may have not got agreement on here, and reflect a little bit on whether they've been let off the hook or not?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think in their latest iteration, they're talking about the possibility of discussing an international presence. They do not like to use the word "military." Well, something like that, I don't have the exact -- it's not their favorite subject.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, if I can follow up on Barry's question earlier, can I also get a clarification. You have mentioned, regarding whether or not there would still be the threat of NATO air-strikes against the Serbs if you get a yes from the Kosovar Albanians three weeks from now. You said it's a black and white situation, and it's up to them. But if you get not just an agreement in principle, if you get a yes that they sign on to this document, and in fact do sign on the dotted line, is the threat of military force, NATO air-strikes still in effect as far as you are concerned?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: All I can tell you is the procedure that exists, is that Secretary General Solana has the authority to use force. I think that from my perspective, it's the parties themselves that have the opportunities to create the black or white situation. I think the marriage of force and diplomacy, as I've described it, continues to exist, and, to follow up on the metaphor here, Secretary General Solana has the ring, so I think that we can figure out where this is going to go. We're going to watch it very carefully. But let me just repeat here, you all get completely fixated about whether we're going to bomb, when we're going to bomb, rather than thinking about what has happened here, which is something quite remarkable, which is that there was no Kosovo process.

There were brave negotiators, or shuttlers, Chris Hill, I think, gets the shuttle award. Remember, I managed when I was here two weeks ago, to get them to meet at a table. These people have now engaged in a process, probably not as full as we would like it at the end, but they are moving forward, and I think that we should take, or the parties, more importantly, the parties should take a lot of satisfaction in what has happened here, and I think the Kosovar Albanians should take a lot of satisfaction in their ability to work through a very difficult situation.

So, I would hope that in the next two or three weeks, we can focus our attention on watching how the Albanians work to get the support of their people, how they begin the process of democratically getting support for an agreement, and that's going to be our focus while Secretary General Solana continues to have the ability to do what he needs to.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, has the United States invited some members of the Albanian delegation to visit the U.S. within the upcoming two weeks, specifically the members of the KLA, representatives from KLA? And my second part of the question would be, does the United States recognize the right of the people of Kosovo to decide on their future status after the passage of the interim agreement?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say that we did discuss the possibility of their coming to visit, and we agreed with what it says in the document that the views of the people of Kosovo need to be consulted.

That is our view.

Thank you very much.

[End of Document]

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