THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release April 23, 1999 11:10 A.M. EDT
BRIEFING TO THE POOL BY
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
International Trade Center
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just give you a sense of the morning, what the President's been up to.
You all came over with us. When we got upstairs -- there's a greeting area right outside the Pavilion, and the President, Secretary of State, Secretary Cohen, General Shelton, Mr. Berger, Ambassador Vershbow, all stood in the receiving line and received the 19 leaders and their delegations. That was about 8:50 a.m. That took roughly 20-25 minutes for the whole group to come in and get settled.
As you saw, the opening statements started about 9:25 a.m., and you were all asked to leave at about 9:30 a.m. Let me just tell you how it proceeded from there. General Naumann gave about a five-minute update to the leaders on the operation and a sense of where we stood in the operation. I think, to summarize, he indicated that we've succeeded in degrading his ability to conduct his military operations, that we're beginning to provide economic isolation, and suggested the need to stay the course and intensify the campaign. I think that was something that was continually repeated by all of the leaders, that this is -- we're on the right course, and we need to stay on course and intensify.
That presentation was followed by a presentation from the SACEUR, General Clark. He acknowledged the incredible work of the brave men and women in uniform, and echoed the sentiment of General Naumann in what we've done. He went into some detail, which I won't go into, and he also talked about the need to intensify as we move forward. He concluded by saying, "we are winning, he is losing, and he knows it."
Then there was a series of presentations by the leaders. They're about two-thirds of the way through, they're all lasting about five minutes. It was Prime Minister Aznar, Chirac, went first. The President was about two-thirds of the way -- I left after he was done. And he generally made, echoed -- the general theme of all of them were several points. One, this campaign will work. We need to stay and continue, in a systematic way, to degrade his military capabilities, and we need to sustain and intensify those efforts.
The second point was, we need to continue, in tightening the noose, continue and increase his economic isolation. And I think the third general point that was repeated by almost every speaker is, we need to continue to engage the Russians, because of the constructive role they can play in any eventual settlement.
I think they'll probably be in there, my guess is, for another hour at least, maybe a little bit longer.
Q In terms of the assessment, did they give any time frame for -- they say they need to stay the course. Were they able to give any kind of time frame, forecast, for how long this is going to take?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there was no specific calendar-based time, except -- beyond, we need to continue to degrade his military abilities.
Q And was there concrete damage assessments given, or just kind of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q -- there was concrete damage assessment --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: General Clark went through a very specific assessment of damage that has been done to the military forces.
Q And did they talk about ground troops?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was not a major topic of conversation. It came up in passing, in a few presentations. There was some discussion. The general sense was, the air campaign is working.
There was a comment -- I'm not sure made by who, but -- about, you know, public support's very important here, and the public has a right to know that we're looking at every option. There was a general -- there were several comments made in support of General Solana and his decision to update the assessment. But it was really not the focus of the conversation.
Q Did the U.S. receive more specifics about the Russian plan overnight, so you know what international presence, for example, was being offered by Milosevic? And any of the other details you didn't have yesterday? Any sense of where that's going?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think we know. I think there was a general sense in the presentations that the reaction from Belgrade was inadequate. We believe that, again, Mr. Chernomyrdin can play a very constructive role here, but the words out of Belgrade do not signify the shift that NATO needs to see in order to bring this conflict to an end.
Q Well, now, Belgrade's even saying that they never even told him that. What do you know about that exchange?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we don't know much, and we've become accustomed to mixed signals from Belgrade. And only clear signals will suffice here.
Q Have you had contacts directly with the Russians overnight, as to what Chernomyrdin knows?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't believe the President has, but that might be a good question for the State Department, because I know the Secretary of State has been in regular contact with her counterpart.
Q Was there anybody in the meeting who voiced some displeasure, dissatisfaction, with the way the campaign is going? Was there anybody who said, we're not --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I don't think so. There was some sense that we need to make sure that we keep making our case, that the public needs to be kept informed, and public support is important. But there was no -- I didn't hear any sentiment --
Q How about suggestions for putting more emphasis on diplomatic efforts? Did anybody do that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think there was anyone who did that, saying that we were putting too much emphasis on the military, but I think everyone said, you know, we need to continue with diplomatic efforts. And I think, to a person, almost all of the leaders suggested, or made the same comment, that it's important to remain engaged with the Russians.
Q You said there was some talk, too, about tightening the noose, and economic pressure. Did you win commitments on an embargo?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think there was, I think, general agreement among the leaders that we need to look at ways to make sure -- several of the leaders mentioned that it would be impossible to explain to the pilots who are flying these missions and blowing up refineries why we might find another way to sell them oil. I think how we're going to do that is still being worked on.
Q Any talk about what sort of clear signals they'd be looking for from Milosevic?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think several of the leaders specifically laid out again what our conditions are, the five points that the NATO foreign ministers, now, two or three weeks ago, laid out. And we've seen nothing to date that adequately addresses those conditions.
Q Is there going to be any kind of written document coming out of the Kosovo meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There may be.
Q Can I ask one more question on the oil? You said that there was general agreement we need to figure out how -- is that still under discussion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right, still under discussion on the how.
Q Was there any dissent voiced about an outright embargo? I mean, why not just decide that this is how we're going to do it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think there's discussions on how. I'm going to leave it there.
Q On embargo and on blockade?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't remember hearing any specific discussion of blockade.
Q Could you help us with what the meeting looked like? I mean, there were those monitors in the center of the table. Did some of the bomb damage assessment stuff --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. No, it generally -- they're in a circle. Each had a microphone in front of them. And General Solana was in the window -- sort of this end, here, with the window --
Q Yes. He had the table to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- and he has generally just gone around the room. I'm not quite sure what the order is. It didn't seem to have a real --
Q But those computer monitors weren't used for anything?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No -- which computer monitors?
Q There's six in the well of the table.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, from where I sat I couldn't see that, but there was nothing -- there was no audiovisual component to this.
Great interpreters, though.