|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
The Right Honorable Robin Cook, M.P., British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Press Availability following their bilateral meeting
Washington, D.C., February 9, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good afternoon. I have just had a very good set of meetings with a very good friend of the United States and of mine, and I'm always very pleased to welcome Robin here to this side.
Foreign Secretary Cook and I have covered a great deal of ground today, and let me just mention a few highlights. We discussed the situation in Serbia where, following this week's historic elections in Croatia, Slobodan Milosevic's repressive regime is becoming ever more of an anomaly in Southeast Europe. We agreed on the need to continue to isolate the Milosevic regime, to support the democratic opposition, and to promote an early transition to democracy.
We both feel that international sanctions are an essential and effective part of this effort, so we will work to intensify, focus, and expand those measures which most effectively target the regime and its key supporters. We support further expanding the visa ban on travel by the regime's high officials, cronies and economic supporters, and strengthening enforcement of the ban on financial transactions with any elements of the regime, its surrogates and supporters.
In recent weeks, the Yugoslav democratic opposition have made important strides toward unity and common purpose. They have declared their intention to turn Yugoslavia toward the West and to break decisively with the disastrous policies of the Milosevic era. They have agreed upon a common political strategy and a code of conduct to govern cooperation among all opposition groups. They have also called for an easing of those international sanctions which affect the common people of Serbia.
In recognition of this progress toward a united democratic opposition and in response to advice from Yugoslavia's democratic leadership, we are prepared to consider support for a temporary suspension of the ban on flights by European carriers into Yugoslavia, as requested by the opposition -- but only if this step is taken along with other measure to strengthen, expand and focus those sanctions which most effectively target the regime and its supporters.
We also call on the Yugoslav opposition to take a further steps to build its unity, including the elaboration of common programs and agreement on common candidate lists at the local level.
Elsewhere in the Balkans, we shared ideas on how to make further progress towards democracy and stability in Kosovo, and I shared the impressions gained in my trip last week to Russia, including my grave concerns about the indiscriminate war in Chechnya.
In the Middle East, the United States and Britain remain steadfast in our determination to see UN weapons inspections resume in Iraq. Saddam Hussein cannot be permitted to dictate the terms of his compliance with UN resolutions.
And, finally, we discussed several tran-Atlantic security issues, including further development of the European Security and Defense Identity.
No two countries see eye to eye on every last detail of policy, but America and Britain are bound together by centuries of shared history and values, and in recent years we've worked in concert on everything from the Gulf to the Balkans to the bringing the Pan Am 103 bombing suspects before the Bar of Justice. So it should come as no surprise that on all the truly important matters, Foreign Secretary Cook and I spoke the same language today, even if his was the Queen's English with a Scots accent and mine is just flat old American.
Mr. Foreign Secretary.
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: But very eloquent, Madeleine.
First of all, I can pick up where Madeleine finished. Our two countries are strategic allies; our two governments are good partners; and I regard Madeleine as a strong friend. It is, therefore, a pleasure for me to be here to make sure that we renew that friendship and we take a raincheck on all the many issues around the world in which we are involved together, making common cause and standing up for the same interests and the same values.
Madeleine has given a review on some of the issues in which we've touched. I would like to focus on two particular aspects of our discussion. The first of those relates to the Western Balkans. I agree entirely with Madeleine Albright that it is important that we keep up the pressure -- and intensify the pressure -- on the regime of Milosevic in Belgrade. That is why we support an extension on the visa ban on those who are among the Serb elite, the people who are responsible for reducing the Serb economy to its present sorry state and taking the country of Serbia into its present isolation.
Secondly, we also agree that we should tighten the financial screw on the regime by making sure that we vigorously implement the restrictions on that regime receiving cash from the outside world or, indeed, placing its cash outside Serbia.
But we want to make sure that the sanctions we take are sanctions that are targeted effectively on the regime and hit Milosevic and his cronies. We do not want to hit the Serb people, who are already hit hard enough by President Milosevic. Like Madeleine Albright, I have listened to the pleas of the opposition in Serbia, and I very much welcome the common cause and the new unity that they have shown since the turn of the year. And in response to their approaches, we -- like the United States -- are willing to look at a suspension of the flight ban for a period of six months in order that the opposition can demonstrate to the Serb people that we are willing to listen to those who represent the forces of democracy and the future within Serbia.
One very good development within the region over the past month has been the election of a new government in Croatia which brings a fresh approach and offers a fresh hope to the region. We welcome that government. In response to it, we are looking at how we can quickly provide opening of doors between that government and Europe and the West.
The same welcome and the same fast track of integration into the modern world awaits the people of Serbia when they rid themselves of Milosevic and his regime.
The second issue in which I would wish to touch is our discussion on the developments in Europe on the security initiatives within Europe. I would like to say that America should give a warm welcome to the initiatives that are being taken on European security. First of all, we are clear that NATO remains first. NATO will be the only organization charged with territorial defense, and NATO will be our organization of choice for handling crisis management.
Secondly, the capabilities that we are developing within the European Union on security initiatives are capabilities that will not be confined to Europe but will also be available to NATO.
And, thirdly, it will mean that the European Union will have the capacity to handle some crises without always ringing up the United States to bail us out on every occasion -- and I think that is good for both of us. It will provide for a stronger NATO; it will provide for a stronger basis of partnership between us.
And that is the message with which I come today and the message with which I depart, that our partnership is in good order and is getting better.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Before we take questions, may I translate something that you said? Raincheck in English -- British -- is different than what we mean by raincheck.
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: It's my Scottish accent.
QUESTION: But killing civilians is the same in any language. In Russia, the Russian officials are threatening now to take their fight to the mountains, where rebels have taken refuge, and bomb them. Last week in Moscow, you pitched for -- and seemed to have made some headway -- on the notion of a commission to go to Chechnya, a human assessment commission. To use your words, you said the Acting President is taking aboard a suggestion that he open the area to more journalists.
You've stopped calling Mr. Putin a reformer. Maybe there's no great significance in that, but have you begun to have a different take on Mr. Yeltsin's temporary successor?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I made quite clear in Moscow, as I have for the last couple of days in public appearances, that we had a disagreement on Chechnya and that our assessment of where this was leading was quite different from Acting President Putin's; and that my statement to him, as well as publicly, was that they were in denial on this and that they were not dealing with the situation in a way that would lead to a useful result for anybody, even for them. Because what I said would happen is happening; that as the Chechens withdrew from Grozny, that they were going into the mountains and that they were guerrilla fighters and they were going to take it back.
I have been in contact and am still waiting for responses from Foreign Minister Ivanov on the issues that I raised, which was the assessment team going in and the accreditation of journalists. I think the clearest thing to say is that I continue to stand where I am. Acting President Putin and the government are not approaching the Chechen problem in a way that will bring any results to anybody, and there has to be a political dialogue.
We also, Barry, have made quite clear that we are very concerned and need an explanation on what is happening with Mr. Babitskiy.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, yesterday afternoon you told us that you had spoken to Foreign Minister Shara about trying to rein in the Hizballah. Have you had any further talks with Middle Eastern leaders on this question today, as there was more bombing by Israel of Hizballah sites?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I have not had a chance to talk to them today. I think Ambassador Ross has been in touch with people in the region. We are working trying to get a Monitoring Group organized, as I mentioned yesterday, because that, we think, is an appropriate mechanism for dealing with this escalation.
I am very concerned about the effect of this. I mean, as I said yesterday, I think that as one moves forward in the peace process there are those extremists, as the Hizballah are, who feel that they don't have a stake in peace and so violence takes place. We believe that it's very important for there not to develop a cycle of violence and we'll continue to press to try to get some restraint here.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary and Mr. Cook, can I read any significance into the fact that the word "Austria" did not come up this afternoon? And if I may follow up, what does the Austrian Government have to do in order to be relieved or released of its quasi-pariah status that it is in right now?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just mention -- and let Robin take this up -- we did talk about Austria at some length and it's my fault for not having mentioned it as one of the subjects.
I met this morning with Ambassador Hall, whom I had asked to go and see Chancellor Schuessel to lay out our concerns. She said to me that they had a meeting in which he made clear that they were putting a certain set of safeguards in to make sure that their party program, or the coalition program that they had agreed to, would in fact be carried out.
Stu Eizenstat, at my direction, has had discussions with various Austrian officials about the necessity of taking certain steps that I would call Holocaust-related, and he feels that a mechanism has been put into place.
We are going to be watching actions of the Austrian Government, not just words. Ambassador Hall will be returning to Austria probably by the end of this week, and then I've asked her to come back here again in a couple of weeks so that I can keep very close tabs on what is going on.
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: We had a very full discussion on Austria, so you should not read any significance -- as you put it -- into the absence of the word in our statements.
I am in constant contact also with my European Union colleagues on this matter. We all made it clear to the parliament of Austria that we hoped they would find an outcome in which they could have a government for Austria which did not include a far-right party. We are disappointed that the advice, the requests and the pleas that we made to the Austrian parliament were not heeded.
I have read the statement that has been made by the two parties that have now formed a coalition. It is a very admirable statement of human rights and of a commitment to democracy and good governance. It is not immediately clear how many parts of that wonderful declaration square with some of the previous statements of Mr. Haider or his election campaign, but they have set for themselves the benchmark by which they will be judged. And all of us in Europe, and I'm sure the United States, will be watching the government of Austria very carefully to make sure that it and Mr. Haider abide by that declaration to which they have committed themselves.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you referred to considering support for the lifting of the flight ban but, as I understand it, there are whole range of options that the EU is considering to expand the delivery of humanitarian aid, for example, to towns that may be controlled by an opposition mayor and things like that.
And I wondered if you could enlighten us as to your views on these other measures that the EU is considering and whether the United States would be prepared to support those as well.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, in terms of the Energy for Democracy Program, I think we have been supportive of that and believe that that is important, and obviously are talking to our European colleagues on this.
The point here is that sanctions are not an ideology; they are a tool. And what we have done here today is to make very clear that the sanctions are going to be targeted, expanded, tightened, against those from the regime that are not allowing the people of Serbia to express their will in terms of having a democracy.
Robin mentioned Croatia as an example of what happens when the opposition works together effectively. They have now -- as you all know, when I was there I was very pleased to see the kinds of steps they are taking to forward democracy. So I think that we believe that the suggestions made today will be the kind that make it very clear that the sanctions are targeted even more intensely upon the regime group in response to something that the opposition itself is interested in, which is allowing it to be clear that their united approach is something that we support and that would get the support of the Serbian people.
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: Can I just say a word about the humanitarian help that we've been providing? As I said, we do not want to punish the Serbian people; we want to hit the Serbian regime. And the Energy for Democracy scheme has actually been very valuable in exposing how Milosevic does not care for the welfare of his people. He hates it. He's done everything possible to obstruct it. For many days, tankers carrying fuel to two opposition cities were kept standing at the border. On one occasion when we actually got the train through to the city of Nis, he kept it standing in a siding for several days before it was allowed to unload.
We could not have found a better way of bringing home to the Serb people that Milosevic cares about himself; he does not care about their problems.
QUESTION: Foreign Secretary, could I ask whether while you are here you'll be discussing American proposals for a limited missile defense system, and what concerns you and your European partners have about the fact that, if a system like that is implemented, it will require re-negotiation of the ABM Treaty, which obviously Europe has a stake in too?
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: We did have a discussion on the National Missile Defense, and we both share the perception that there are new threats in the world and that there are specific and changing threats to the United States from some individual countries. In these circumstances, we understand that the United States would wish to respond to it.
I have invited Secretary of State Albright to make sure that the members of NATO are kept fully in the loop and advised of the development of this by the United States. We wish to continue those discussions. And the question of the ABM Treaty, of course we would wish to see it re-negotiated in a way in which any such development was consistent with it.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, again on Lebanon, Israel has been bombing known civilian targets with no direct military value to them. Is this not a violation of the Geneva Conventions? Is this a violation? Is it possibly even a war crime?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I believe that they -- first of all, the Israelis have lost a number of their soldiers as a result of attacks by the Hizballah, and they have in fact, I think, responded in a way to show that this is an unacceptable escalation.
As I have said, what we believe is important is for the Monitoring Group that is charged with determining whether this is part of the '96 understandings of how to keep the escalation down in this area, they are the ones that need to begin to make these judgments. And I think that, from our part, we obviously regret any violence. The whole problem here is to try to get the peace process going and keep it going so that there is no room for violence. But it is the Monitoring Group that has to make that determination.
QUESTION: Foreign Secretary, as you know, earlier this week the Defense Minister of Yugoslavia was assassinated. And I'm curious as to whether or not this decision to add names to the blacklist and strengthen the sanctions is in any way related to a perception, perhaps, that Milosevic and his inner circle are under attack and this is the time to strike.
And for Secretary Albright, previously, Madame Secretary, you had said that the only way that you would ease the travel ban would be if early elections were held in Yugoslavia. Why was the decision made to ease, at least temporarily, the travel ban now when, as you know, there have been no elections?
FOREIGN SECRETARY COOK: Can I just say that one point which I'd agree with the premise of your question is that there are strains and tensions within the regime, and that is evident -- and not just the increase in violence to which you refer.
But the decision that we have reached and have announced today is not arising from that. It arises from the approach that we have received from the Serb opposition and the welcome newfound unity of purpose and common agreement among the Serb opposition. That is why, over a period of time that stretches back beyond that particular incident, we have been in dialogue on this. We have been in dialogue with Serb opposition and we felt it right to take this step forward.
But I do believe that Milosevic is facing increasing difficulty; that the Serb opposition are showing increasing strength and unity; and we hope that what we announce today will bring home the message to the Serb people that there is a future waiting for them in Europe, in the West, if they first turn their back on the poisonous policies that Milosevic has sold to them and has used to destroy the region around him.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, again, as Robin said, we are not trying to punish the Serbian people; we are trying to target those who are responsible for the suffering of not only the Serbian people but the Kosovars and all the ethnic cleansing and various things that they have been involved in.
I believe that, as I said earlier, that I consider sanctions a very important tool and lever, not an ideology, and that what needs to be done here is for us to be able to target them in a way that is useful to our end. And our end here is to get elections and to have the opposition act together.
And as I said in my statement, I think that what is important here now is for the Yugoslav opposition to take further steps to build their unity, which is to have an elaboration of common programs and agreement on common candidates. Basically, what we are trying to do here is to -- as is true of the Energy for Democracy -- is to give as much support as possible to those who are fighting the fight over there in terms of trying to get the election process going.
And so I feel that we've actually taken a very important step today in tightening and targeting the sanctions, strengthening them against the group that is the one at fault, and trying to give additional leverage to the opposition group so that it can do something akin to what happened in Croatia. There, the opposition, six groups, got together; they worked together, they created a common program, and they won a big election. And that's what we would like to see happen.
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