12:55 P.M. EDT
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release April 24, 1999
BRIEFING TO THE POOL
BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
International Trade Center
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. The discussion this morning focused on the overall new NATO agenda -- the new strategic concept, the open door, the continued enlargement process, the European security and defense identity and the defense capabilities initiative, weapons of mass destruction -- so the various initiatives you've heard about that are being approved here at the summit.
I would say that there was really very broad agreement on the importance of the new strategic concept. Several of the ministers stressed how it was very forward-looking, future oriented, that it recognizes that NATO needs to deal with new risks, new threats; that we need to prepare the Alliance to deal with challenges, not only on its territory, but beyond. There were many comments that supported the U.S. view that it's important, whenever possible, to have a strong international mandate, but that in exceptional cases or in extreme situations, as we've confronted in Kosovo, consensus of the Alliance is a basis to act.
There was a lot of emphasis on the importance of the capabilities to back up the new missions that the Alliance is taking on. President Clinton, in particular, who closed the discussion -- they went around the table in alphabetical order -- President Clinton stressed that it's particularly important not only that the Alliance be seen as relevant, which is part of the message that's coming out of the different summit decisions, but that it be effective in carrying out these new tasks.
And he put particular stress on the defense capabilities initiative, which is one of the more important pieces of this, from the U.S. point of view, that allies -- recognizing budget limitations -- need to spend their money wisely so that we are equipped to deal with these new threats, particularly to project power and sustain operations beyond our frontiers. And he also stressed that this is important if the European defense identity is going to work -- if they don't have the capabilities to back it up, it isn't going to amount to that much.
The President, secondly, emphasized the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction center at NATO. He noted that this is going to be a problem confronting NATO leaders for many decades to come and that the Alliance needs to be better organized to deal with weapons of mass destruction. And I don't know if you've been briefed on what this will entail -- there will be a new organizational structure at NATO, establishing a center to coordinate all Alliance work on dealing with WMD threats to coordinate intelligence assessments, to give more impetus to defense preparations, to deal with operations where there's a threat from an adversary with chemical, biological weapons and all that; and generally to put more focus on this issue for the future.
Then, third, the President stressed that a strategic concept, itself, has to be followed up on seriously. And he called attention to a recent speech by the U.N. Secretary General, who stressed that when one was dealing with flagrant abuses of human rights that no despot like Milosevic should be able to seek refuge in the UN charter and territorial sovereignty. I would refer you to Kofi Annan, to exactly what he said -- not quote my paraphrase. But the President felt that this was an important statement and it underpinned what we're doing in Kosovo, that the consensus of 19 democracies determined to confront this sort of flagrant abuse of human rights is an important element for the future.
So just looking through here -- a lot of support for continued enlargement, the need to keep the door open, keep up the momentum. Different countries mentioned their favorite candidates, who will get recognition in our communique in a subtly nuanced way you will see when it's released. And a lot of the allies stressed that even as we build a stronger European role within the Alliance, it's important to maintain the trans-Atlantic link. I think the Portuguese Prime Minister, who has a flair for the metaphor, said that as we try to build a stronger European pillar, the pillar is aimed at further underpinning the trans-Atlantic bridge -- we're not building the pillar to replace the bridge, but it's to support the bridge.
I think that covers the main themes. If you want to fire a few questions, I came here to fill in some gaps.
Q On the strategic concept, I understand that Turkey has some objections to that. Can you tell us what they are and what we're doing to address them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's why I'm a little late. There's one remaining issue, both in the communique and the strategic concept that relates to forward agenda on the European security and defense identity, where allies want to, first of all, consolidate what we've achieved, building this within NATO, which was the Berlin decisions of 1996 and the work that's followed -- but then there's the British-French initiative, San Merlo -- and the Alliance is looking to lay out its thinking on how this process should evolve vis-a-vis NATO.
And we're working with the Turks right now, even as we speak, to kind of resolve the final references in this to make clear that all the allies, all the European allies need to be involved in this process if they want to contribute to the development of European defense, even those who are not members of the European Union, which Turkey, of course, is one of eight allies who aren't in the EU.
Q So the sticking point is what, exactly? That they don't want to --
Q I didn't get your explanation, I'm sorry. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry, I'm trying to be a little evasive here. (Laughter.)
Q That they don't want to contribute as much as they need to?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. The Turks want to be involved and they want to ensure that -- the way the NATO decision, or the NATO communique is framed, in terms of where this process is going to go, that Turkey is assured of a roll, even though it's not in the EU. And we support that. We want to be involved, too, and we're not in the EU.
Q And what process, the enlargement process?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, the European security and defense process. This is the San Merlo, the Franco-British initiative to boost the security and defense dimension of the European Union over the next few years.
Q And, sorry, what are we doing to address their concerns?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Final negotiations on the wording of the communique on this particular point.
Q And you're confident that that will --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Confident we'll have a resolution. I can't tell you what it's going to be at this point.
Q I have a technical question, actually, coming out of yesterday. If eventually we put Kosovo under an international protectorate, or whatever the term was that was used there, does that mean it would still be technically part of Yugoslavia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, if you look at the statement on Kosovo, it talks about a transitional arrangement providing substantial autonomy within the FRY. I mean, that's a framework, the specifics will only be worked out at the stage that we are fleshing this out in detail.
I think, in practice, I think it's the view of everybody in the Alliance that after what's happened it's hard to envisage any Serb military and police forces remaining in Kosovo for some time if there's going to be a safe environment for the return of refugees and the establishment of the autonomous institutions of self-government for the Kosovar population. That doesn't mean that at least nominally speaking the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will still be affirmed.
All the allies -- and this was clear at yesterday's discussions -- continue to see major down sides in Kosovo independence, in terms of its implications for stability in the wider region, looking at the fragility of Macedonia, in particular; and, also, just as a bad precedent for the alteration of international borders by force.
Q Can you tell us what specific -- if there was any specific discussion of the Kosovo situation during today's session? And, also, I noticed some people working around the edges still on the oil interdiction issue.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Glad you asked about that. I would say there wasn't any specific discussion of the Kosovo issues in their detail, as were addressed yesterday, including in the statement. But many allies -- probably just about every ally -- mentioned Kosovo as kind of a metaphor for what the new NATO is supposed to be all about, that in a sense, the new NATO that we're launching here with all the different summit decisions -- from the strategic concept to the defense capabilities initiative -- is already kind of being put to the test in Kosovo.
So many people felt that it made all the more important what we're deciding today on strategic concept capabilities, even on sensitive issues like the question of the mandate that -- so that we can deal with future situations -- hopefully none quite as serious as Kosovo will ever occur -- we have the tools and the structures and the capabilities to deal with them.
On the maritime issue, that wasn't addressed at all in this morning's meeting. But as you know, there was a meeting of the defense ministers yesterday afternoon, at which there was a follow up to the meeting of the leaders in the morning. And as I understand it -- I wasn't present, I was at the foreign ministers meeting at the same time -- but there was considerable progress in coming to a formal decision to direct our military authorities to complete the preparations to put in place measures to block the delivery of oil and other war materiel to Yugoslavia.
So we translated what was a general reference in the declaration that you've seen into a decision. Now, there will still be some further work to completing the planning and all that, but the defense ministers were unanimous on the need to actually go ahead and start implementing.
Q What's the next step on that? Will there be another meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not here. I think the next step is sort of finalize all this back in Brussels in the daily meetings with --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to give you any code words. The words are to take measures to either block or impede -- I don't even know the word in the final decision sheet -- the delivery of oil.
Q Berger said yesterday, by any means. So that could include a blockade.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's encompassed. We had been pushing for what was called a visit and search regime, where you could stop and search ships and divert them if they had what we consider to be illegitimate cargo. You can call that a blockade if you want.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But it has legal implications, that word, so Mr. Berger referred to it yesterday --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In different terms.
Q Does that take an extra deployment of forces?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it would require putting sufficient naval assets into the Adriatic. I don't know the force requirements, but it would take a substantial number of ships to do an effective job.
Q So that's what the decision was, that we would be doing that -- stopping, inspecting, diverting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's among the options. And there's also strong sentiment for continuing in the air campaign, to target the supply routes out of Montenegro and into Serbia -- not wanting to damage Montenegro, which remains still an island of relative democracy and we're trying not to further weaken Djukanovic, who's being very much besieged by Milosevic and his forces. But in terms of shipment out of Montenegro into Serbia, we want to stop that and the NATO air campaign can and has already targeted roads and other supply lines.
Q You still concede, though, that the Alliance has not yet come to a decision on how to interdict and block? And also you haven't reached a decision as to what the legal basis for such a thing would be.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's been a decision by the defense ministers that we will take military action, including with maritime forces, to block. But exactly how this will be done is now in the hands of the military to come back with the final concept of operations or plan.
But the political decision has been taken. Now we have to figure out what's the most practical way to do it within the resources that we have and to make sure that everybody is comfortable, that the menu of measures -- and it will be more than one means, as I mentioned, there will still be the air options, as well as the maritime -- that everybody is satisfied with the legal dimension of this.
Q But there is yet no legal basis agreed upon?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're satisfied. The majority of the allies believe --
Q Or what is the legal basis, then, if you could describe it for us.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we've argued that it's the customary law of armed conflict. We are in a state of -- we don't use the "w" word -- but we believe that we are in a state of armed conflict with the FRY and consistent with our effort to degrade their military capability, including attacking the oil petroleum capacities that it's thereby also legitimate to deprive them of the ability to replenish those sorts of materials, which are key to the war effort.
So not all allies have yet fully come on board that approach, but we think that they will.
Q One quick question. The President of Albania said today that he would allow troops, ground troops to launch an offensive from his country. Is that welcome?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's an interesting development. But since the leaders were quite unanimous that we're prosecuting an air campaign, that it's still the viable strategy, that it's working, that it has a ways to go, that no one was posing any questions of ground forces for ground invasion that it's of academic interest at this point.
Q But it gives you more options if you need them, no?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's good to know that that's their position, in the event down the road other decisions need to be taken. But I repeat the leaders were unanimous that we have a viable strategy, we're going to stay the course, it is working.
We had a very powerful briefing from both the chairman of the military committee and General Clark at the start of yesterday's meeting, who made clear from their military point of view that the strategy is having an effect, that if we can intensify the air campaign -- and that was the key thing agreed by the leaders, that we have to step up the tempo and the scope of the targeting -- that with that we can achieve both serious damage at the strategic level and achieve a strategic isolation of Kosovo and thereby cut off the Serb forces there from command structure. And that through air power we still rate the chances as high that we can achieve the objectives.
So, as I said, what the Albanians may be offering in that regard is of interesting academic interest.
Q Thank you very much.