|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Press Conference on Developments in Kosovo
Washington, D.C., June 3, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good evening. I have a short statement, and then I'd be very pleased to take your questions.
President Clinton spoke for all Americans earlier this afternoon when he welcomed the movement in the direction of acceptance by Serb leaders of the plan presented in Belgrade yesterday by President Ahtisaari and Mr. Chernomyrdin. This plan, which was developed by NATO and the international community, sets out the terms and conditions for ending the crisis in Kosovo through the withdrawal of all Serb forces; the deployment of an international security force with NATO at its core; the return of Albanian Kosovars to their homes; and the establishment of democratic self-governance in the region.
The acceptance by Belgrade of these terms is a vital first step, but the confrontation cannot end until these terms are complied with and implemented. As a result, caution is the word of the day. The diplomatic task in which we are now engaged is to spell out the specific arrangement for moving from conflict to return and reconstruction. To this end, we have been and will continue to be in frequent contact with our counterparts in Europe, including NATO allies, Russia and the front-line states. I expect to meet in Europe in the coming days with my G-8 colleagues.
In recent weeks, we have begun the process of planning for success. We will now accelerate that effort, for the purpose of making it possible for an international force to deploy and for refugees to return as soon as possible. We call upon Belgrade to comply with the plan it has indicated it will accept, and prepare for the rapid withdrawal of its forces from Kosovo.
I also want to emphasize the importance of our ongoing strategy to ensure that this conflict is not followed by future ones. Working with our partners in Europe, we're determined to help the nations of Southeast Europe integrate themselves fully into the mainstream of the Euro-Atlantic community. This includes Serbia when that nation becomes democratic.
In closing, let me just say that we would not have reached this point of cautious hope if not for the determination of NATO leaders, including President Clinton, the unity showed by each Alliance members and the courage and commitment of the men and women of our armed forces. We've acted in a just cause. We hope that soon, we'll be able to begin building a just and lasting peace.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, is it too early, is it too premature to ask you to respond now to those many people -- many of them in think tanks, but all over town -- who for four months have been accusing you of a Munich mindset. I don't know why that's bad, but accusing you of that -- but of questioning, really, that this campaign would succeed, and suggesting that the strategy is wrong, the goals are misguided, that the US doesn't belong in this conflict. Is it a little early to have something to say about that? Do you want to see it work out first, or what?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, Barry, as I've said, basically the word of the day is cautious. We have seen words from Milosevic and his people, and I think what we have to see is implementation of what he has agreed to do. There will be plenty of time to draw the lessons from this.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, this is a detail that might not have been worked out yet. But there has been some concern expressed by the provisional government -- the ethnic Albanian leadership -- about how far the Serbs will be required to withdraw from the borders of Kosovo, the so-called "buffer zone" that's addressed in the agreement. Can you clear that up, how that would work?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that that is something that's part -- will be, obviously, part of the military discussions that will now take place. But it's a detail that I'm not prepared to discuss at this moment.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in terms of the details, are you clarified, after talking with your deputy, Deputy Secretary Talbott, about some of the details that need to be worked out in terms of the use of the word "all?" I mean, is it your understanding that the Serbs have agreed to pull all their forces out of Kosovo?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It is my understanding that that is what their version of the document says, and that is what President Ahtisaari, in explaining what he explained to them and their reaction to it, as well as what the Serb parliament agreed to -- that "all" is a part of it.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up? I asked Jamie this earlier. I wonder if you could, sort of, answer what you think. Milosevic clearly now has apparently accepted this plan. What do you think has led him now, after 70-some-odd days of bombing, to finally accept NATO's conditions?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think it is, obviously, very hard to read his mind. But I do think that if this is, in fact, something that can be verified that he's going to implement it, I think we'll have to make a judgment at that stage what made it happen.
But I do think that the military, the air campaign, has been a -- we have talked about it as having done a great deal, every day that we come and discuss it with you. I think we have made very clear that the damage that has been done to the military infrastructure, to a lot of the industry, to a lot of command-and-control: this is very significant. But I'm not going to draw any conclusions or make judgments. I think we're going to take this a step at a time.
He has accepted the terms and conditions. President Ahtisaari briefed to make that clear. President Ahtisaari explained everything to him in detail. And I think now we have to wait to see how it is implemented. We'll have plenty of time to assess.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, there are still details to work out. Can you describe. a little bit, what sort of the diplomatic landscape will look like in the coming days and weeks? How are you going to hash out these details? How will they, in practice, be resolved?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I've been in touch a major part of the day with many of my European colleagues, and my deputy, Mr. Talbott, has also. He's in Europe, and he has been in Germany. He's gone to Brussels, and he's going to go to Helsinki. So we are working very hard, with all our colleagues, to develop the pattern for how the details are going to be dealt with. Obviously, large amount of them are going to be done in military-to-military channels.
On the diplomatic front, what has to happen is that we need to work out a lot of questions to do with how the United Nations and the Security Council -- what role they play. We'll have to look at the civilian implementation -- all the things that actually we've been talking about to prepare for success we will now go into if -- and I want to leave the conditional here, because he has accepted something, but it has to be implemented.
But with that "if" in there, we have to really now move on the humanitarian front, figure out ways for the refugees to be able to return in an organized fashion and work out the other aspects of this, the whole agreement. So there's a lot of military-to-military work to be done, but obviously a great deal of diplomatic work also.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, have you had an opportunity to speak with anyone representing the KLA; and, if so, whom? Do you have any doubts whether or not they will accept these terms, and whether or not they will, in fact, disarm?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say that we have been in touch with various members of the Kosovar Albanian community, including the KLA. I will continue to be in touch with them. It is our expectation that they will demilitarize according to the Rambouillet -- on the basis of the Rambouillet agreements.
But the main question here is for all Serb forces to withdraw, and that is where the focus is now. But obviously, I think that staying in very close touch with the Kosovo community is very much a part of my agenda.
QUESTION: If I could just follow-up. When you say you've been in touch with them, has that been since Ahtisaari has returned from Belgrade?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I personally have not, but members of my staff have.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, how critical a role did President Ahtisaari play, do you think, both in bringing Milosevic to the point where he accepted, and also bringing the NATO and Russian positions closer together?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I must say that both Mr. Chernomyrdin and President Ahtisaari played a very important role in this partnership that they were able to develop. I also give great credit to Mr. Talbott in the detailed work that he has done with the two of them. And Mr. Ahtisaari, I think was able to play an important role because of who he is, and the respect that he has from the international community. First of all, he is highly respected within Europe. Finland is about to take over the European Union presidency for the next six months; and in that role, he is highly respected. Also, he has a background, in terms of the work that he did on Bosnia. So he is known within the UN and international circles. He is a very clear and determined man. I think that his personal stature and his professional -- the positions that he holds, the combination of those two things, made him very important.
And Mr. Chernomyrdin, I think we have to say that he has worked very, very hard on this and deserves a great deal -- if this, in fact, comes to pass -- a great deal of credit. I think that the two of them developed a very good partnership.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, can you say that you believe -- that Strobe Talbott has convinced you that in fact what Milosevic has signed onto is an international security force that will, indeed, have NATO at the core; that this will not be a force that will be taken over by the UN; that you will get what you want?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, President Ahtisaari has stated that in explaining all this to Milosevic, that he made very clear that NATO had to be at the core. Ahtisaari says that that is a clear aspect -- function -- of this. Plus, as I've said many times, it is a statement of fact that the refugees -- the whole purpose of this is to have the refugees go back. The refugees will not go back if all the Serb forces are not out; and they will not go back if Americans are not part of a force; and Americans will not be part of a security force that does not have NATO at its core with a unified command structure.
So, ipso facto, that is where we are. I think that we have to rely on what Ahtisaari has said, and at the same time, again, ultimately the facts on the ground and how this will be very evident as this is implemented.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you suppose this might be a tactical retreat on Milosevic's part; that he's counting on NATO having shortness of breath, and once NATO gets weary of reconstruction and so forth that they will retreat, and that he can move again and work his will on Kosovo?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It's interesting you put it that way. I think if anything has been shown in the last 70 days or whatever, it is the "long-ness" of breath -- or the amount of breath that NATO has, and the unity of the Alliance, and the determination of people to see this through. I can tell you from my conversations, again, with my colleagues in whatever forum and over whatever aspect of this, whether it's following through on the air campaign, or thinking about the future in terms of reconstruction, or working with the front-line states about our long-term vision for the Balkans, there is incredible determination and incredible determination, ultimately, to see a democratic Serbia that can be a part of this, and great support for making sure that we will all stick together as we go through the various steps of this.
QUESTION: Your conditionality accepted, if that holds true, and implementation takes place, is this a day to declare victory?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: As I said, we'll have plenty of time to do that. I believe that at this stage, the most important point to keep in mind is that this is an important step. It has to be implemented. As you all know, I'm not from Missouri, but for the purposes of this, I am. I think that it is very important for us to see this carried out. As I said, we have plenty of time to celebrate.
At the moment, what has to be done -- there's an incredible amount of work to be done, both in the military-to-military context and on the diplomatic front. We're going to take this one step at a time and keep a clear vision.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, over these last 70 days, how often have you, in fact, wondered whether this would work out OK, or whether you would get stuck in a quagmire in Kosovo? And assuming that it does work out, what lessons do you think can be drawn from this episode?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I'm not going to do psycho-babble on Milosevic, and I certainly am not going to do it on myself. So we will have plenty of time to assess that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thanks a lot.
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