THE WHITE HOUSE AT WORK
Friday, March 19, 1999
A COMMITMENT TO PEACE IN KOSOVO
If we do not act, the war will spread. And if it spreads, we will not be able to act without far greater risk and cost. I believe the real challenge of foreign policy is to deal with problems before they harm our vital interests, and that is what we must do in Kosovo.
President Bill Clinton
March 19, 1999
Today at the White House, President Clinton reaffirms his commitment to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict in Kosovo and calls upon Serbian leader Milosevic to sign the peace agreement -- agreed to by the Kosovar Albanians -- or face the consequences. He will also discuss that in the event that the Serbs continue their intransigence and aggression, the United States and our NATO allies stand ready to take decisive military action to prevent further bloodshed and achieve a peaceful settlement.
Leading Efforts to Secure Peace in Kosovo. Kosovo, a part of the former Yugoslavia, lies in the heart of the Balkans, a region of strategic importance to the United States and Europe. As part of the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo - which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian - has historically enjoyed substantial self-government. In 1989, however, Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic revoked Kosovo's autonomy, sparking a campaign for self-rule that led to the outbreak of violence between Kosovar Albanians and Serb police last year. The United States helped broker a cease-fire last fall, and pressed both sides to sign a political settlement that would allow Kosovars to again govern themselves in peace. This cease fire succeeded in reducing hostilities, preventing the violence from spreading, and allowed more than 300,000 Kosovar Albanians who fled the fighting to return to their homes before the onset of winter. Now, peace in the region is again threatened by the Serbs, and the U.S. and its allies are intensifying their efforts to prevent a return to violence.
Securing Peace In Kosovo Is In The U.S. National Interest. The President is committed to achieving peace in Kosovo because continued violence there threatens U.S. national interests in two ways:
- The Threat Of Spreading Conflict. The United States has a strong interest in preventing Kosovo from spiraling out of control. Violence in Kosovo could spread, threatening the fragile stability of the entire region, including Bosnia, Macedonia and Albania. Greece and Turkey - both NATO allies - could also be drawn into a conflict.
- An Ongoing Humanitarian Crisis. Over 200,000 Kosovar Albanians have been driven from their homes in recent weeks, highlighting the potential for a humanitarian crisis that could spill over into neighboring countries. The United States has a strong interest in seeing that Milosevic is prevented from burning towns and terrorizing civilians with impunity.
President Clinton Is Ready to Act. The U.S. has sought to end the violence and promote a peaceful solution through diplomatic means. Yesterday, the Kosovar Albanian leaders signed a peace agreement that would stop the killing and give the people of Kosovo the self-government they need. However, Milosevic and his negotiators have refused to discuss key elements of the agreement and have massed troops around Kosovo. President Clinton and NATO have warned President Milosevic to end his intransigence and repression or face military action. The President and our allies are united behind this course -- we are prepared to carry out military action against the Serbs should they mount an offensive in Kosovo.