Off-Camera Briefing from the US State Department|
March 10, 1998
Briefer: James Foley Edited for EJL by moderator
[...] QUESTION: This may be clear in London, but at least it isn't clear to me. Could you tell us whether Russia is going to go ahead, has a green light to go ahead with a very large arms deal with Serbia? Or is this off the boards now, because of the increased sanctions?
MR. FOLEY: Well, first of all, Barry, as you know, the participants on the US side in the important Contact Group meeting yesterday in London have not returned to the United States. The Secretary's party, of course, is now in Canada, having passed through Spain en route yesterday; and Ambassador Gelbard is currently in Kosovo. So we haven't had a fulsome read-out, and I will be unable to probably satisfy all of your questions.
But clearly in London yesterday, Russia joined the other members of the Contact Group in agreeing that the Security Council would consider a comprehensive arms embargo against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including Kosovo. So we fully expect that this issue will now be brought to the Security Council, perhaps in the days to come; and that if there is a resolution passed in this regard, that Russia will abide by that Security Council agreement if that's what takes place.
QUESTION: Do you happen to know - I know they're on the road - but is the US preference that even old contracts not be fulfilled?
MR. FOLEY: We're looking to exert the maximum pressure on President Milosevic now, to ensure that he gets the message that there is a significant price to pay for the repression that has occurred inside Kosovo. Clearly, our goal is to see a cessation of the repression. And if you look at the Contact Group's statement yesterday, it offered the possibility that the punitive measures that were decided yesterday and the prospect of further punitive measures in the next couple of weeks could be reversed if he reversed course and withdrew the forces of repression from Kosovo and began an honest dialogue with the political leadership in Kosovo towards meeting the legitimate political rights and grievances of the Kosovar-Albanians.
So the ball is very much on Mr. Milosevic's side of the court, and we await his actions over the next two weeks. As you know, there's another Contact Group meeting scheduled for March 25th in Washington, at which time we'll have the opportunity to assess whether he's heeded the call of the international community.
QUESTION: Isn't that, with all due respect, a little naive, considering what happened the last time you lifted sanctions? Then you had the bloody actions in Kosovo. I don't know why I would think of Iraq at the same time, but isn't your experience with Milosevic such that he should have to do a lot of things before you would consider making his life easier?
MR. FOLEY: Well, we've had long experience with President Milosevic, ever since the Balkan crisis erupted some seven, eight years ago. The question was posed to me on Thursday - our view of what was going on inside his head concerning these latest events. I offered the answer that he has shown himself at times to be an able tactician, but not someone with a long-range vision of what's in the best interest of his people.
However, we have seen him change course in the past; and I think it's indisputable that his participation was essential to the successful completion of the Dayton accords. And his episodic cooperation with implementation of Dayton has, at times, been critical to achieving progress in Bosnia - most notably with the recent coming to power of the reform-minded, pro-Dayton government in the Republika Srpska. So he has demonstrated an ability to change course and to cooperate when it's in his interest - when he sees it in his interest to do so. [...]
QUESTION: Jim, what can you say about exactly how much arms the Russians have put into Serbia in the last few months?
MR. FOLEY: Unfortunately, I don't have information on that. I did check, and we don't have that available.
QUESTION: You - I presume that you know - I mean, you've got, or you supposedly had terrific intelligence about what's going on in that whole region. So I'm assuming that you just don't want to say.
MR. FOLEY: Well, I did ask the question; I was told that we have no information -specific information -- regarding arms transfers by Russia to the FRY. I mean, Barry asked the question a minute ago as to whether this might be prospective in nature; and certainly we want to see the arms spigot shut down, especially if there is no progress over the next two weeks. So the focus will be in New York as we discuss Security Council action in this regard. [snip - reporters badger him back and forth, he finds bureaucratic "we're looking into it answers" - goes on for about fifty lines-CR]
QUESTION: I don't understand your answer to Barry's earlier question. What did the Russians agree to in London - that they would cease new arms sales, or stop everything, including what's in the pipeline?
MR. FOLEY: Well, first of all, I won't bore you with all the details, and I'm sure you've seen the Contact Group's statement, which we can make available if you don't have it. But in the first instance, there was a whole series of measures having to do with what I think is called preventive diplomacy - allowing the international community, in one form or another, access to the situation in the ground in an attempt to meet some of the humanitarian needs of the people there, in an attempt to deter further violence, in an attempt to assess human rights violations. For example, we've called on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to assess the events of the last week.
So there's a series of diplomatic steps that the Contact Group agreed to, that Russia agreed to, as well. I could read them to you; there were at least eight, I believe. Secondly, the members of the Contact Group took four immediate concrete steps to which Russia associated itself to two of them and reserved judgment on the other two. But the two that Russia associated itself with included first, Security Council consideration of a comprehensive arms embargo, as indicated; and secondly, a refusal on the part of the Contact Group members to supply equipment to the FRY which might be used for internal repression or for terrorism. [....] So if you're talking about making life more difficult for Milosevic, we believe that that is an item that will impact significantly on his ability to revive the Yugoslav economy; on his ability to finance the repression; on his ability to achieve the integration - the re-integration into the world economic system that he so ardently desires and which the actions of the last week have undermined substantially.
QUESTION: I think you don't want to answer the question, but let me ask it more specifically. What was the Russian position at London on arms -- an immediate cessation of all arms deliveries, or just a cessation on new contracts?
MR. FOLEY: Well, I read to you the relevant statement. I'll read it again. UN Security Council consideration of a comprehensive arms embargo against the FRY, including Kosovo. That's clear - that the forum for decision is the Security Council; that we expect this to be taken up soon in the days to come, principally because President Milosevic has been placed under notice that he has about two weeks - until March 25 - to show, to implement the demands of the international community expressed in London.
QUESTION: My question was more specific than that. What was the Russian position in London?
MR. FOLEY: To agree to Security Council consideration of a comprehensive arms embargo against the FRY.
QUESTION: You talk about the ball being in Milosevic's court and the fact that he's been placed on notice and that you're waiting for these punitive measures to take effect. But aren't you worried that while you wait and sit on the sidelines, this situation has a better likelihood of turning into another Bosnia and the atrocities are going to grow?
MR. FOLEY: I would disagree with the premise of your question, and I agree that it's a relevant question. But the whole purpose of the Contact Group meeting yesterday in London, as expressed by Secretary Albright at the conclusion of that conference, was precisely to draw the lessons of Bosnia, when the international community temporized, undertook half-measures and was constantly, until 1995, behind the curve of events in Bosnia. She drew the parallel herself and argued, I think successfully, to her colleagues in London that we needed to learn the lessons of Bosnia and arrest the prospect of ethnic cleansing, of destabilizing and spreading violence before events got out of control.
And she expressed her satisfaction with the results of the London meeting. Milosevic is on notice; some severe measures have already been agreed to and will begin to pinch; and he's got about two weeks to show that he's heard the message and that he undertakes the kinds of steps - such as removing repressive forces and beginning a dialogue -- to avoid the prospects of further biting sanctions two weeks down the road.
QUESTION: So there's no concern that two weeks is a lot of time for him, and you're giving him maybe a little more time than he deserves?
MR. FOLEY: I'm sure that two weeks is a reasonable amount of time to judge whether or not he has gotten the message and reversed course.
QUESTION: The fact that Roberts Owen is now going to be doing Pacific salmon, what does that say about the Brcko matter?
MR. FOLEY: It says that the Brcko matter, as I understand it, is due to be adjudicated by Ambassador Owen, I believe, on Sunday of this week - some five days hence.
QUESTION: And that will the end of it? You expect a final decision on Brcko then?
MR. FOLEY: I have no information as to the nature of his decision. We'll have to await that decision on Sunday.
QUESTION: This is a question that may have been asked before, and I apologize in advance. Is it the Administration's official position that the Kosovo Liberation Army is a terrorist group?
MR. FOLEY: No, we've not taken that decision. What we have said is that specific acts - terrorist acts - have been committed in Kosovo over the last weeks and months, perhaps. But we've not made that determination.
QUESTION: So if I can follow up, if that was said by a US official in a public forum, that would be - if a State Department official said that the Kosovo Liberation Army is a terrorist group, he would be wrong or stating his own opinion or --
MR. FOLEY: Well, I really don't know what you're talking about.
QUESTION: If Robert Gelbard said that in a public forum, would that be incorrect? Would he be --
MR. FOLEY: My understanding is what he has said is that there have been terrorist acts committed by this group. To make a determination, as the Secretary must, about the status of groups as terrorist organizations or not, requires a significant amount of study, of legal analysis, of judgment over time to make that kind of an assessment.
QUESTION: What is the US position vis-a-vis to this organization - the KLA - finally? What is your position?
MR. FOLEY: I just answered that question. [...]
QUESTION: (inaudible.)-- description of the KLA. Isn't somebody who commits terrorist acts by definition a terrorist?
MR. FOLEY: If someone commits a terrorist act, he or she is a terrorist. I can accept that definition.
QUESTION: So both Mr. Gelbard and yourself have accepted the fact that the KLA has committed terrorist acts, but you're not sure if they are a terrorist organization.
MR. FOLEY: Well, I explained, and I've already answered the question that in order for the United States Government to make such a determination requires time, requires legal analysis. We're talking about events that have occurred over the last few weeks. We're not in a position to make that determination.
There have been terrorist acts committed against innocent civilians. We're not denying that in any way. But let's look at the larger picture here. What's really happening is that Belgrade has refused to engage in a dialogue over the future status of Kosovo - a status that would meet the legitimate political needs of the people there. That is the root cause of the instability; and it is hypocritical for Belgrade to claim that as a pretext to try to excuse the outrageous repression that's occurred there in the last few weeks.
QUESTION: Why doesn't the United States and the Contact Group apply the same rules which they applied to Iraq when they made ethnic cleansing - closing the north, for example, the Kurdish area is a non-flying zone and the south the same thing? Why did these Western countries not think about the same rule and regulation for the southern part of the Kosovo part of Serbia?
MR. FOLEY: Well, I'm not going to get into, in a public forum, what we may or may not be thinking about. We believe that first, we've got Mr. Milosevic's attention as a result of the Contact Group meeting yesterday. He has two weeks to demonstrate that he's gotten the message and that he's willing to take acts to diffuse the situation. So we're going to be watching carefully developments over the next two weeks.
QUESTION: -- on Russia, sort of?
MR. FOLEY: Sure, is this still connected with - oh, sorry, Carol.
QUESTION: On the Contact Group statement, there was a reference to the UN force in Macedonia and the need to either consider expanding the mandate or reconsidering. I wondered if you have any views on what should happen to that force?
MR. FOLEY: Well, you're right, there was a reference to the situation in Macedonia. We believe that the UN force called UNPREDEP has helped the southward spread of conflict in the former Yugoslavia by deploying US and Nordic troops to patrol and monitor conditions along the Macedonian border.
Now, the UNPREDEP mandate is said to expire on August 31, but we believe conditions in the region are such that the international community cannot turn its back on Macedonia now. We must make certain that there is no security vacuum after August 31. Last week's violence in Kosovo - which, of course, borders Macedonia - and the Serbian Government's refusal to demarcate their border with Macedonia show the need for continued international military presence in Macedonia, as was agreed by the Contact Group yesterday.
QUESTION: Will you be asking Congress to fund the United Nations -(inaudible) --
MR. FOLEY: We've not made any decision at this point -- the mandate doesn't expire until the end of August - as to what kind of international military presence might remain. The Contact Group referred to that consideration be given to adapting the current UNPREDEP mandate. So it's premature to speculate on what that might be, Sid, but certainly we will be discussing with Congress down the road what we think that kind of international military presence might need to be.
QUESTION: So you're saying you might withdraw the American troops, then, depending --
MR. FOLEY: I'm not saying anything one way or the other. I'm just saying that the Contact Group agreed that there needed to be an ongoing international military presence in Kosovo - in Macedonia.
QUESTION: You're not saying that the Clinton Administration's commitment is such that American troops will stay there one way or the other?
MR. FOLEY: I'm not prejudging the outcome of discussions that we're going to be having with our partners in the international community. It's now March 10; the mandate expires, I believe, at the end of August. We have some time to discuss that.