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Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official

March 18, 1994

The Briefing Room

10:55 A.M. EST

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning, and it is a good morning thus far. Let me say -- (laughter.) Always very cautious on the national security side of the house. (Laughter.) Always looking behind us and up to see what's coming.

Is the water coming?

Q: Whitewater? (Laughter.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: See I told you. (Laughter.) Actually, I do have something to say about that, but I won't.

Let me begin before turning it over to my colleague on the various contributing that were made to making this a good morning. And, first of all, I think that the progress that was represented in the signing ceremony this morning flowed first from changes on the ground that we all have been talking about for recent weeks and is a reflection of the relationship began between power and diplomacy.

I also should mention the role that has been played in all of this by the European Union and by the United Nations and by the Russians over the past weeks. And that is why all of them were represented this morning at the signing ceremony. And let me especially call to your attention the extraordinary persistence and skill that Ambassador Charles "Chuck" Redman has brought to this in bringing all this about.

I also should note that in the meetings that were just completed between the President and President Izetbegovic and President Tudjman that both of them thanked the President for his personal role in all of this. President Izetbegovic and I quote, "Your role in this was a decisive one." Also, I would note that they both publicly and privately restated the importance to them of our reiteration of our position on helping to implement a viable settlement in Bosnia.

As on so many foreign policy issues, let me again quote Yogi Berra who said, "It ain't over 'til it's over." And this is not. This is a step. It is a very, very important step, we believe, but it is a step in a process that will now continue. The President made clear in both his meetings this morning, the situation in Bosnia is one that is always moving. Right now, it is moving in positive directions. If it does not continue to move in that direction, then it could well begin to roll back. And that is why we will be continuing to work on this very hard and I'll ask my colleague to describe to you both and to talk with you both about the agreements that were signed this morning and also run through with you the next steps that are now before us.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This morning -- a very brief bit of history so that those of you who haven't followed this for the last three weeks understand why we got to this particular step today and why it represents a building block, an important one, but a building block in the context of trying to reach an overall settlement in Bosnia and stability in the region. And I'll come back to that at the end because it is that larger issue which makes this next step even more complicated than where we've gotten thus far.

The primary reason that we first decided -- once the President had given us the go-ahead to become involved actively diplomatically -- the reason we decided then to go ahead in the first instance with this intensity of effort to bring the Bosnian government, Muslims and the Bosnian Croats together, was that both of these parties had long been working on this and thought that it was something that would create a more stable situation in the region.

The Croatian government had traditionally had a somewhat different policy looking at the future of Bosnia so that a key aspect in this was also changing the attitude and the orientation of the Croatian, President Tudjman and his advisors, that what we were talking about here in Bosnia had much greater implications for them than anything in the region and, in fact, it offered them a historic opportunity to chart a new course toward the West in terms of political and economic integration.

So we ended up, in a way, working on two tracks with the Bosnian government of the Bosnia Croats in terms of what has come to be known as the federation idea which provides a stable, and we hope, lasting political-economic arrangement between these two peoples inside of Bosnia and a second track then which had to do with convincing the Croatian government that, in fact, there was a lot for them in this process if indeed they wanted to be our partners in this effort -- first, to help with the federation, of course, but to also offer in terms of what is now called the confederation with Croatia a more viable, long-term economic relationship in that part of the region.

So what you see today in terms of this constitution that has now been drafted is the fruit of this first phase. It will be called a proposed constitution until such time as it could be formally submitted and ratified by a Bosnian constituent assembly. I say until such time because it now depends, in part, on the Serb reaction. For example, should the Serbs decide to join this federation so that it would encompass the whole of Bosnia then the constitution would have to be restructured in order to take care of three constituent peoples rather than two.

Most of what we have heard to date from the Bosnian Serbs indicates that they are probably not interested in that arrangement in view of the fact that they have been working all through the negotiations in Geneva for a fairly high level of autonomy within Bosnia.

This agreement does provide for a strong central government. That was the essential Bosnian government requirement in putting this agreement together -- that it should be a true federal system in which the central government had real powers; represented the country internationally if, in fact, the federation should come one day to represent the country; but also then has the true powers normally associated with a real central government. At the same time, the Bosnia Croats were, of course, interested in there being substantial powers at the local levels -- what have been called cantons in this arrangement -- so that in areas of most concern to them, particularly things like education, culture, radio and television, information -- those kinds of things -- that they would have a large degree of control over their cultural identity in this case as Croats.

So that the structure that resulted, what you see reflected in this constitution, is one in which the powers and the interests of the Bosnian government, called Bosniaks in this constitution, and the Croats are carefully balanced in order to meet those two desires on the part of the two parties that were putting this agreement together.

If you look at it, you will see that there is a presidential system at the top which rotates between a Bosniak and a Croat. In order to provide for continuity and experience in that post, they decided that they would elect two men who would serve four years, but rotate as president and vice president every other year. So one being Croat would serve two years as the president and two years as vice president, and the same for the Bosniak.

The post of prime minister is probably the key governmental post in this constitution, and again, if you look at it, the prime minister and his government have fairly clear-cut substantial powers in order to run the federal government.

One of the more interesting provisions in the constitution is that which is called the House of Peoples, which is the upper house of a two-chamber parliament. And it is in that upper house where the Croats and Bosniaks are represented essentially as peoples. And in that context, there is a so-called vital interest clause, so that if one or the other of the parties decided that something that was moving through the parliamentary system was of vital interest to them as a constituent people, they would have the ability to stop that and to block it.

Now, in order to make sure that that is not used frivolously, there is then a provision for if the other party disagrees that this is, in fact, a vital interest and says this is a frivolous argument, it's not really a vital interest, you're using this simply to block the system, it can then be submitted to the constitutional court. The constitutional court will have three international members as well as Bosniak, Croat and other members during its first five years. Those three international members will be, in effect, the arbiters of this vital interest clause, so that, in fact, things that are frivolous would be thrown aside and judgments made on those issues which were really valid.

Then our hope would be that after five years it would be a series of cases that would have been ruled upon which would provide precedence then for the remainder of the life of the federation.

At the cantonal level, you will note that we haven't specified the exact numbers of canton at this point. That's really because this federation depends in the end in terms of its territorial expanse on these negotiations which need to come now with the Serbs. But, presumably, if you look at the map and the territory in play, there must be something on the order of at least eight cantons, maybe as many as a dozen. But those are essentially administrative decisions as to where to draw the lines. The cantons would each have their own directly-elected cantonal legislature which will elect a cantonal president. There will be municipal governments. You can read the constitution and find all of those things out.

When it came to the Croatians, as I said in the beginning, I think this was a fairly significant decision on the part of the Croatian government to support this effort and to really chart its course toward politically economic integration with the West.

I don't think we could have done this without the Croatian government, because they are a very important source of support and comfort for the Bosnian Croats who will be very much in a minority position within this federation inside of Bosnia. So the fact that the Croatian government was willing to stand side-by-side with us -- the Bosnian government, the Bosnian Croats -- in doing this, was to my mind clearly a key part of this negotiation.

I would say at this stage that the events on the ground have actually been quite heartening. It is true, as I said earlier, that we can't actually ratify this constitution until we know exactly what the federation will include. But nonetheless, the parties -- in this case, the Bosnian Croats and the Bosnian government forces -- have already done a substantial job of disengaging themselves along more than 200 kilometers of front-line in Central Bosnia where just a few weeks ago there was some of the most intense fighting in the country going on. And we take that as a sign first on the part of the political leadership that they want this to happen; and secondly, as a particularly good sign on the part of the military commanders on the ground that they intend to see this through.

So, again, as Tony said, it's something that -- it keeps moving all the time, and we need to keep moving it forward, otherwise it moves in directions that may not be as positive. But so far, particularly on the ground, it's moving in the right direction. That's where we had asked retired general Jack Galvin to play a special role for us in helping to coordinate that particular aspect of this agreement. And I think his meetings in Split last weekend were extremely successful in moving to yet a new series of confidence-building measures that the parties have agreed to undertake.

Before I open it up to questions, I would just say that some of the concrete things that will now start to happen, I hope will be important for the region, for each of these countries. The President mentioned at least some of them in passing this morning in his remarks. As far as the Bosnian government is concerned, it's very important that everyone now start to focus on the possibilities for reconstruction. And while that obviously is also dependent in large measure on overall agreement, there is probably some very useful work we can start to do even now in consultation with the various financial institutions, the Europeans, the Russians, others, so that we can start to lay the framework for what will need to be a very major reconstruction effort in Bosnia.

We will also -- and this comes from the fact that Sarajevo has been largely now brought under control -- we will also be opening a United States embassy in Sarajevo in the near future. More details to follow, but I believe our planning will be in terms of weeks, rather than months. But we have done a lot of legwork, and we've had advance teams there looking at sites. And so we're trying to move that process now to conclusion.

On the Croatian side, there are some things we can now do immediately, which will be symbolic of what we hope will be then a long-term lasting relationship between the United State and Croatia. The kind of things that we will be able to do immediately will be to grant the Croatians permission to open four new consulates in the United States -- in New York, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Los Angeles. We will move forward with the bilateral aid agreement, as we also will, by the way, with the Bosnian government. And in both cases, that puts in place the framework for all of our various aid programs that will come down the road in months to come.

We will be able to complete a science and technology agreement with the Croatian government. There will be increased technical assistance -- a doubling of the Fulbright program and a $3.5 million program in humanitarian assistance. And maybe even more importantly for the Croatian government, we will now be in a position to give them stronger support in the international lending institutions, which is the kind of help they really need in order to get their economy up and moving again.

Finally, then a few words on each of the meetings. My colleague mentioned briefly some of the highlights. I think, clearly, with President Izetbegovic, key issues are reconstruction and implementation. The President spoke to that earlier this morning. For the Croatian government, it's making sure that -- very difficult problem in the Krajina -- does not move off of the agenda because of efforts to find peace in Bosnia. And we, again, assured them that we would stand -- continue to stand -- very firmly behind their efforts to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their country.

The next steps are going to be really multifaceted now. We need to keep this agreement in place and make sure it continues to function and to take root. Secondly, we need to develop both the substance and the tactics of a way to move toward negotiations with the Serbs, which will address the territorial issues that have not yet been resolved because of this Muslim-Croat agreement.

Those essentially are the so-called qualitative territorial, as they have been called in Geneva, which represent those key areas of interest to the Bosnian government that thus far the Bosnian Serbs have not been willing to return.

There is no doubt that in this phase the Bosnian Serbs have not been willing to return. There is no doubt that in this phase the Bosnian Serbs will be called upon to make some concessions, they have not yet seen fit to make. And at the same time we will be asking all of the parties to adopt the most reasonable positions possible so that this can, in fact, be negotiated.

We then have to link this territorial negotiation, which not only involves the parties on the ground, but obviously the Russians, the United States and the European Union. So we have three international parties and at least three parties on the ground. We also have to make sure that this is closely interlinked, then, with the situation in the Krajina because that is an explosive situation itself and our intent here is not to make peace in one part of the region only to see it flare up, to see war flare up in yet another.

So that is yet another delicate aspect of putting together a package that number one, can be negotiated; and number two, results in peace and, more generally, stability in the region. We'd like to do that as fast as we can to take advantage of the momentum which we now see. At the same time we have to recognize that this is a complicated and delicate task and we have some groundwork to do both on the international side between ourselves, the EEU and the Russians, as well as eventually some tough work to do with the parties.

Q: Could you explain -- I'm just a little hazy, on ratification again. Do you give the Bosnian Serbs a certain time in which they must respond or, fish or cut bait, how does this all work? And in the interim, what happens with the constitution?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The parties will try to go ahead and implement what could be implemented without a formal ratification. There are a lot of the kinds of cooperation that they are talking about that might well get underway even before they were a constitution. It would be, obviously, a less formal arrangement than in the constitution.

That's the kind of thing they are doing, for example, with their military forces. They may find some other ways to do that. They'll be actively looking at that as things settle down and they can see more clearly what they might do on the ground. But they can't really take it to a constituent assembly until they know the Serb reaction and they know the territorial parameters in which they are operating.

That doesn't mean there's a Serb veto on the constitution. It only means there needs to be a Serb decision as to whether or not they might in fact to enter this kind of federation or whether Bosnia will be something on the model of what has been talked about in Geneva which would be essentially two entities under a union arrangement -- this entity being one of them , the Muslim entity, and a Serb entity being the other.

In that case, the federation could probably go ahead and establish then its constitution as the mechanism for governing itself within its territory while recognizing that the union, which is still Bosnia, would have some of the powers of the presidency, for example, in terms of international affairs. I know that's a little complicated; but it is complicated.

Q: What incentives are there for the Serbs? So far, it seems like the only things that have really gotten their attention have been the threat of NATO air strikes. What carrots are there for the Serbs to join in this thing?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you make a valid point. First of all, that we need to keep up the kind of pressures that have brought us to where we are and there are many of those programs that are still in force and continue to be active and we'll continue to enforce them when and where necessary.

But at the same time, to my mind, the biggest incentive to the Bosnian Serbs ought to be peace because they are just as hung up in this war as anyone else. They are not able to get on with whatever it is they want to do economically, politically or otherwise unless they can come to a negotiated solution. There's obviously the question of sanctions which is a very important issue, certainly for Serbia, but also for the Bosnia Serbs.

So our hope is in this particular time period that people do indeed see that really nothing more is to be gained on the battlefield and that this is the time now to finish this negotiation.

Q: The details of this have not exactly been secret, so what has been the reaction from the Serbs so far?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have to characterize it as preliminary because until one gets to a formal negotiation we won't really know. But the reaction is generally as I described it earlier. There would not seem to be interest in joining the federation, per se, because it does represent a strong central government. At the same time, a general inclination to look at the future Bosnia in the context of a union as have been talked about in Geneva, only without three parts, now, rather, there only being two parts.

Q: What are the prospects --

Q: But we shouldn't be ruling out -- I mean, that is open --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right. These are all open to the Serbs.

Q: But is there any hope or any thought that the Serbs would want to federate with the other two sides? It seems that all the talk up to this point has been if and when they would align themselves with Serbia.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, it's hard to speak for the Serbs at this stage. They are going to have to look at these arrangements -- I hope they're doing that -- and make their decision. Under either of the scenarios I've described, Bosnia remains Bosnia. It's just a question of how the various parties are interrelated within that context.

Q: President Izetbegovic did not sound like he was ready to give up on the idea of significant territorial concessions from the Serbs today. How much -- President Clinton in the past has talked about a couple of percentage points of land, a very minor amount of land that is in these qualitative choices. How much would the Serbs have to give up to be able to get Izetbegovic into a deal?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's part of the dynamic of the negotiation. We do have quantitative parameters that have been on the table that the parties have indicated agreement with since November-December as part of the EU effort at that time. And that does provide at this stage the best we can see that the parties have generally agreed to. But I, having been associated with this now, for eight or nine months, I'd be the last to say that these people are predictable and that as we work through these issues, we're simply going to have to do what we can to keep people within the bounds of what can be negotiable, but at the same time, what can be acceptable. And what is acceptable then gets to the points that you were referring.

Q: How much more difficult do you think it will be to get from this point now to an overall settlement than it was to get to this agreement between the Muslims and the Croats?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: When we started this process with the Muslims and Croats, almost everyone told us we were wasting our time, that it was impossible. So we did get that in any case. Now, unfortunately, I'm not prepared to say that that means that the next phase will follow that same kind of track.

I tried to indicate a bit the complexity of that because of the number of parties involved now, the issues which are not just Bosnian but also having to do with Croatia and sanctions. And that becomes a very tricky mix. So we're going to have to be patient, take advantage of the momentum, but it's going to have to be done right and there are interests on all sides that are going to have to be taken into account.

So all I can say is that we're going to work this as fast as we can within those confines.

Q: Two questions. The first involves the timing for the Serbs to give you an indication of which way they're going to go on this. Are we talking a matter of weeks, months?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I didn't put any deadlines, but we are certainly thinking in terms of weeks in order to get to this next phase, not months.

Q: My next question involves the embassy in Sarajevo. What will be the protection there? What's the deal? I understand that there's some questions about the normal 100-plus Marine contingent and the President's assertion that no U.S. troops will go into Bosnia until there's a comprehensive settlement.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have a precise answer in terms of what it will take to provide security. That obviously is a key question because we don't want to open an embassy and expose our people to unnecessary risk. We have been going in and out of Bosnia quite frequently throughout the war, but also, in the last week since things have settled down, so that the teams that have gone out have looked at it in that context.

Exactly what they will come up with in terms of recommendation I haven't seen yet. I don't think anyone has seen it yet. But I know in my own case, traveling in and out of there, existing there -- in the case of Ambassador Jacovich, who comes and goes -- I don't know how to characterize this, but nonetheless, the amount of security it takes now to be safe there is already considerably less than what it was a month and a half ago in terms of just a small group of people moving around. Now, that's different, of course, from having an embassy. But a lot of that would depend on where that embassy was located, what part of town, structure. I mean, there are a lot of technical people who are examining that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is an issue we'll be examining. Let me note that there are already American soldiers who have been in Bosnia assigned to the U.N. Headquarters in Kiseljak. So we have never said no American soldier may ever set foot in Bosnia. What we have said is we will not send troops or forces in. I'm not trying to open up an opening here. This is an issue we will be looking at. I'm just trying to clarify that one technical point.

Q: But do I understand that no thought is being given to opening an embassy without security? There will be some soldiers there --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is an issue we will be looking at.

Q: So some thought is being given then to opening an embassy minus the normal -- not the number of --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I didn't say that. I said that we are looking at all of the practical details involved in opening an embassy.

Q: Should the Serbs refuse to part of any union with this new federation, is it an option which would be acceptable to you? I mean, do they have this option of going it alone, or refusing to be part of any arrangement?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm really not in a position to speculate on those kinds of questions at this stage. All I can do is tell you what the track record of the negotiations has shown to date, and from what we continue to hear from the parties, which is that they all at this stage seem to indicate that they are negotiating on the basis of the union type arrangement.

Q: What role do you think the Russians need to play in this? Are they critical to bringing the Serbs in?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's going to be a very important role. I think, first of all, we should recognize we all have roles to play with all these parties. It's not that the Russians deal only with the Serbs, nor that I deal only with the Bosnians or the Croats. We all stay in touch with all of the parties, and I think the parties appreciate that and like it that way.

What we are trying to do, what we will try to do is to construct an effort which can draw the support essentially of the U.S., Russia and the EU. And if we can keep that sort of core group on board in terms of what we think could be a reasonable, acceptable negotiated solution, then I think that will give us a much greater chance of doing that. That's not necessarily going to be easy because people do have somewhat different interests, but thus far, I think our efforts to work with the Russians and the EU have been pretty successful. It does become more difficult now, and so it's going to take even more intensive consultations.

But you may have noticed that Deputy Minister Churkin was here for this event today. I met with him last night. We will continue these kinds of very close contacts to see if we can't make this a coordinated effort.

Someone who hasn't asked one, in the back.

Q: you said a very major reconstruction effort is going to be needed in Bosnia. Do you have any idea how much money is involved here? And do you envision any U.S. military personnel being to help in the reconstruction?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have any answers to those questions right now. Those are the kinds of things that will have to be studied.

Q: Whether or not it's a federation or a union, do the Serbs have to make territorial concessions, and have they indicated in Geneva a willingness to do that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All we can say at this stage is, number one, we know something about the quantitative parameter that have been talked about in Geneva to which the Serbs as well as others have indicated general agreement. I say general agreement because until you have people's signature on a bottom line, you never know. And secondly, they know as well as anyone else that these negotiations have faltered thus far on these questions of quality which means that the kind of territory that eventually has to appear on that map on the side of the Bosnian-Croat entity is different than what they had been prepared to offer heretofore. And so that's the framework in which we are operating and to which we have to find some new solutions, we hope.

Q: And if I could follow up -- the Croat Muslim federation has said that they need at least 50 percent of the land in Bosnia?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, if you take the parameters that have been on the table in Geneva, and you add up the Muslim plus the Croat entities, you get just about 51 percent.

Thank you.

END 11:27 A.M. EST

William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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