Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
The Briefing Room
7:04 P.M. EDT
MR. STEINBERG: This is a BACKGROUND briefing for attribution to Senior Administration Officials. The briefers will be (names deleted).
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've not actually come with a prepared statement. We could try to make one up on the spur of the moment if you wanted it, but I think we'd both prefer to respond to questions.
Q: Why the emphasis on putting the troops, the Americans, under NATO rather than the U.N.? Why did the President make a point of that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's nothing new about this. It's been our position since February, when we said that if there were a viable settlement agreed to by all the parties, we would be willing, working through NATO and the U.N., to help implement and enforce it. I think that is a direct quote from Secretary Christopher's speech.
Q: New or not, why is the United States leery of having American peacekeepers directed by the United Nations rather than NATO?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't make that as a blanket statement at all for every instance.
Q: In this instance.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In this instance because it would be a complicated and potentially risky situation -- very big, very complicated. Only NATO, with its experience of working together, its established command and control arrangements, we believe is able to do the job. We have never intended, and we don't intend now, a NATO-only operation. The contingency planning that's gone on in NATO -- oh gosh, since last winter the plan has always been to accommodate non-NATO forces. We hope the Russians would participate; we think Swedes and various other countries would intend to participate who are not members of NATO; but a NATO-centered and -led force drawing on what we think are NATO's unique ability to carry out something this complicated.
Q: Does it have anything to do with deciding that BoutrosGhali, who George Shultz described as a man from another planet -- (laughter) -- giving him a decisive role in deciding whether you come to the assistance of the Muslims before they expire entirely?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there's nothing personal in it. It's simply an assessment of the only way to get this job done.
Q: The President seemed to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I might just add the one thing you should, of course, keep in mind is, even though this would be a NATO operation, it would still be under United Nations authorization.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely.
Q: The President seemed to go out of his way to emphasize that he would seek congressional approval for the -- can you tell us why that emphasis, and is congressional approval required on something like this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Did he say approval; I thought he said support. Obviously we need congressional support; they pay the bills. And also, in this country, one doesn't get into a complicated military operation without public and congressional support. That's certainly the position of the President.
Q: So that you're not talking about a formal sort of approval from Congress, but simply a show of support or consolidation with --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't want to get into the details of how congressional support might be registered.
Q: He said that Congress would have to agree.
Q: Yes, he said it four time --
Q: For me to do it, the Congress would have to agree.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't want to go beyond that.
Q: Well, do you see that as a new statement, because many of us do?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Maybe a new statement; it's not a new concept. It's not a new idea that one needs congressional support. They pay the bills.
Q: I'm sorry, but he said something that was different to us, which was Congress has to agree. And that contemplates the concept of approval.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't want to try to interpret what he said. Certainly, a sense of congressional support and via Congress, public opinion -- understanding of what we're doing and support for it -- we have always believed would be important. How that support would be registered --
Q: Does that mean that the President's offer to contribute troops is really contingent on that, so that President Izetbegovic doesn't know that he can rely on that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have never said that we would contribute troops. If you remember, the February 10 statement was to help implement through NATO and the U.N. possibly including with military forces. Now, the President, I think, has made clear that he's open to the proposition of American military forces, if there is a viable agreement entered into with serious intent to comply, with serious enforcement provisions, and, obviously, with congressional and public support.
Q: If I may interject, just today at the State Department, we went over this and the spokesman said that he agreed that the presumption is that when the President has said repeatedly we
participate, he was meaning ground troops. So, I mean, why are we making an issue of it now? That you --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not.
Q: never said -- well, you said the President never said he meant troops. And today, at the State Department, says he meant troops. Does he mean troops or not?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If you say they said the presumption is ground troops --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- I would agree with that. For planning purposes, NATO has been carrying out contingency planning purposes. But we have never taken the final political decision.
Q: And what is the meaning of participation, then, when the President said --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We will decide that later.
Q: So the participation could exclude the use of ground troops if we would do air? Is that the kind of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to go beyond that in interpreting that. I think the situation is clear: The planning assumption has been that we will participate if it's a viable agreement. It means that's something we need to see what the details of the agreement are. President Izetbegovic made very, very clear his desire for American participation and also his strong desire that this be a NATO operation.
Q: Outside after the meeting, President Izetbegovic also indicated that he asked in light terms the President for basically stronger pressures to get the Serbs and Croats to give him the extra four percent of land. And his ambassador to the U.N. said that what they really wanted was a threat that produces a credible result. Can you tell us, one, did President Izetbegovic ask for stronger measures, including air strikes at an earlier stage? Number two, what was the response of President Clinton? And, number three, we understand that there is a NATO council meeting. Is that being held to consider an early decision on air strikes?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to get into the details of private conversation between the two Presidents. You ought to talk to my colleague about the negotiating situation and a sense of what influence we have there and how best to apply it.
About a NATO -- the NATO Council meets, as you know, all the time at the level of permanent representatives. There is no extraordinary council meeting planned that I know of.
Q: Okay, but generally, can you tell us, was there any discussion between the two Presidents, regarding stronger measures to pressure the Serbs and Croats into an acceptable political settlement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In very general terms there was discussion about how best to bring about a settlement. And President Izetbegovic knew before he came our view that all sides need to show greater flexibility. The differences are not great in territorial terms, but they're very significant to all the parties. And we already have been urging greater flexibility on the Serbs and the Croats, including the Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats.
I won't go beyond that. I don't know if my colleague wants to adds anything from the negotiating perspective.
Q: Basically what I'm trying to find out is did President Clinton tell President Izetbegovic anything on the score that he hasn't said before?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not that he hasn't said before, but he did indicate, of course, as we have -- as you know we are doing, we are approaching all the parties to the negotiation, particularly the Serbs and the Croats. We will continue to do that, and we continue to urge that there be sufficient flexibility shown. So, it didn't come up in any new way, but it certainly did come up in the sense that the President confirmed our continued willingness to continue to press them for that kind of flexibility.
Q: So President Izetbegovic didn't get anything out of this meeting that he couldn't have gotten reading the papers in the last few days, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think he expected anything new out of this meeting. He has a very realistic understanding of what we can do to influence the negotiations and what we are trying to do, but also the limits of what the outside world can do for him -- that outside military force is not going to solve this problem; that we will do what we can to influence all the parties -- and I stress all --to be more flexible in the negotiations, but now is probably the best moment to try to strike a good deal -- not peace at any price, but a good deal, because outside military force is not going to solve this problem.
Q: You said both sides must show now greater flexibility. Does that include the Muslim -- I mean, did the President ask Mr. Izetbegovic to be more flexible himself?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not in specific terms, no. He stressed the need for flexibility, as he always has.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to go beyond what I said.
Q: You've said all sides now twice. And you either mean it or you don't. Last week the Secretary of State did not include the Muslims. I mean, he said that the Serbs and the Croats must show more flexibility; and he specifically endorsed all the key demands of the Muslims. Do you now want us to go out and file that the Muslims also must -- your colleague carefully avoided that point in his description.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think --
Q: You have twice now said all sides. Is the President demanding flexibility from the Muslims?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're not demanding anything from the Bosnians.
Q: All right. Is the President requesting flexibility from the Muslims? I don't know what they have left to be flexible about, but is that what he's requesting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we have made very clear our view that the Serbs and the Croats are the ones who should show greater flexibility here. We have not -- and I doubt very much that Secretary Christopher endorsed all the proposals of the Bosnian --
Q: He didn't ask for flexibility from the Muslims.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But I doubt very much that he endorsed all the proposals of the Bosnian government, which is what you
call the Muslims.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think perhaps another way to explain this is that we have consistently stayed away from taking a position on any kind of specific issue --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's not for us to decide.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's not for us to decide.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's not our decision. It's going to have to be a judgment made by the parties to the negotiation. But it is a negotiation. And as these kind of demands or requests by the Bosnian government are put forward and negotiated, various kinds of options can arise. So it is necessary for everybody to engage in a good faith negotiation to see if it's possible to find a solution that's acceptable to all the parties. In that sense, this certainly applies to everybody sitting around the table.
Q: In your view, did this meeting accomplish anything, or was it just a chance for the President to show that he was interested in the issue? It doesn't seem like there was any kind of movement on anything.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's President Izetbegovic who asked for the meeting, which is something we were happy to do. I wasn't --
Q: Because you thought it could accomplish something or just because you thought it would be nice for the President to have his picture taken with him?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One hopes both. By nice to have his picture taken with him -- if it's something that President Izetbegovic feels is helpful. It's certainly something we wanted to do and to be supportive.
I did not hear President Izetbegovic's meeting with you just after the session with the President, so I assume you asked him if he felt the meeting accomplished something, and I don't know what his answer would have been. And I wouldn't presume to speak for him.
Q: To put it in other words, do you think the Muslims have any reason to be more optimistic now after this meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think they may be about our seriousness in wanting to make an agreement work if there is one. And that -- I don't want to put words in President Izetbegovic's mouth; I hope you asked him this question. Certainly in the brief encounter with the press before the meeting started, and then again at the beginning of the meeting, the point he wanted to stress first, in public and in private, was his desire to have the United States help implement a settlement if one is arrived at, that the kind of settlement he has been negotiating toward -- not everything he might have hoped, but it is one that he will see as the best alternative available to him and that he would want very much to have the United States in NATO enforcing it. That seemed to be his prime -- but I really hate to put words in his mouth.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just add to that very briefly that throughout this negotiation the co-chairmen have said as well as President Izetbegovic that for this agreement to have meaning, that the parties indeed can reach an acceptable agreement, there will have to be serious implementation and enforcement. And to the extent that this negotiation is a serious one, and President Izetbegovic goes back to these talks with the intent of trying to find an acceptable solution, I think clearly in his mind an important aspect of that is knowing what the prospects are for serious implementation and enforcement. And, as you could see from his remarks, I think that was
clearly high on his mind and one of the reasons that he wanted to talk to the President.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You should ask him, but if I had to guess what he most wanted out of the meeting, that's the impression I got.
Q: But he got no specific -- he got the promise the U.S. would take part in guaranteeing it, but no specific way in which the U.S. would take part. It was it a -- very broad generalities in an hour-long discussion this is his number one issue. Did he get any specific guarantees of what our guarantees are going to be?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I had the impression he was quite satisfied with what he heard on that point. But you really ought to ask him.
Q: Can you tell us what --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You heard the President, I think, during the photo op talk at some length about that.
Let me just make sure there's one point of clarification here, because when the President -- President Izetbegovic uses the word "guarantee," by that he means implementation.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just so that that's -- Q: Can we go back to the Congress angle for a second? Q: I want to ask a question about the Congress angle as
well. I mean, there are two ways you can look at it. And if I were President Izetbegovic and I had been listening to the debate recently on Somalia and I were looking at what President Clinton said today in his four separate mentions of the question of congressional support and congressional backing, I would see this as an additional condition and potential limitation on the American ability to help implement a peace agreement. Does the addition of this condition of congressional approval mean it is less likely that the United States will send 20,000-plus peacekeepers to Bosnia if a peace agreement is reached?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You'd have to ask President Izetbegovic if he sees it as an additional condition. It was not the impression I got.
Q: Do you see it as --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I don't. It's our system. It's the way things work here. I did not get the impression -- and I really hate to try to guess what his reaction was -- but I did not get the impression that he was dissatisfied. In fact, quite the contrary.
Q: Well, we are under the impression that this is a further condition -- that President Clinton had laid out previous conditions on the implementation, that Secretary Christopher did -- viable, enforceable, serious commitment. Now we have the additional condition of congressional support. Should we read it that way as an additional condition and lowering the possibilities?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You can read it obviously as you like; but I didn't.
Q: You say not, but previous administrations and so far this one have said their compliance with War Powers didn't require prior approval for enforcement of the U.N. resolution. The President seemed to say today -- he didn't say it required it, but he said he would seek
it -- he would want it before he did this. And it seems to be a change. And if it's not a change, this would be a real good time to make that clear, I think.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You were taking notes on his exact words, and I wasn't. Q: We have a transcript -- the White House transcript. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Exactly. I thought he was
talking about congressional support. And he, at one point, said they had --
Q: to do it, the Congress would have to agree?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: If the President feels that the agreement by the parties meets all the conditions that he's laid out previously regarding contribution of U.S. support and maybe troops, but by his own measurements there is no congressional agreement or support, will that, in the administration's view, constrain the United States from contributing?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you're reading more into this than you should. I'm guessing at what the President meant, which is also perilous, but somewhat less perilous than guessing at what President Izetbegovic meant. I think he was saying what he took to be the obvious, that we would need and he would try to get congressional and public support for this step. This would be a major step, as we've always known.
Q: constrained if you didn't get that support?
Q: vote in Congress? He's talking about a consensus that he gets the feeling that Congress, through its leadership, supports sending U.S. peacekeepers to Bosnia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't want to speculate as to how he would want that support to be registered. I think that would be -- since I don't know, it would be very unwise and I could mislead you.
Q: Was Mr. Izetbegovic concerned that --
Q: position on the War Powers Act?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, it does not affect the War Powers situation.
Q: Does this administration acknowledge as a Democratic administration, consistent with the Democratic leadership and the House under the previous Republican administrations, the notion that the War Powers Act does apply to a situation like this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's not an issue I work, but I do not -- so far as I know, the position has not changed on the War Powers Act.
Q: Is there a concern here that the parties might come up with an agreement that does not meet the fair and enforceable criteria that the President has laid out and that, therefore, the Congress might not support participation and the President might not support participation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I suppose that's possible. We have always said that it's really not for us to say; it's for the parties themselves to decide, given the options open to them which, in the case of the Bosnians, are few and tragic, what is the best course for them. And if an agreement can be reached that seems to us to be
viable, by which we mean enforceable, some sign that the parties really mean to comply with it, unlike the London Accords and the numerous ceasefires that have been signed and immediately disregarded, that we would be willing, working through NATO and the U.N., to help implement and enforce it.
Q: Is there something emerging that might not meet that criteria?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not in my mind. And I would be very surprised if the Bosnian government signed an agreement that did not meet that criteria.
Q: discussion of the time frame involved in a peace agreement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there was not.
Q: They never once sat down and said this --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In this meeting no; it didn't come up at all. No, it didn't come up at all.
Q: Did President Izetbegovic raise the idea of setting a deadline for lifting the siege of Sarajevo and moving the artillery as he's discussed before?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Obviously he would like the world to do more. He'd like more outside military intervention. But he did not press us on things that he knows are not possible for us. In fact, he expressed understanding that the United States would not act unilaterally, and that appreciation for the fact that we had brought our allies and the U.N. as far as we have on the NATO air warning, which has had significant success in ending the strangulation of Sarajevo and the other safe havens. It has not, and we never expected it could, bring about a rollback of Serbian conquest. That is, you know, the shelling has diminished enormously and most of the convoys are now getting through. The situation is far from perfect.
Q: He raised it but he didn't press it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He raised in general terms what more the world might do, but he has a clear understanding of the limits of what he can expect from outside military intervention.
Q: You said that these non-U.N. peacekeepers would be under U.N. authorization. Is it your position that that authorization already exists? And, if not, how do you think it would be passed? Would there be another Security Council resolution? And once that it happened, would Boutros-Ghali then be out of it completely and have no further say in the matter?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't want to speculate about the role of U.N. political authorities in the implementation of a settlement. There would be a lot more to implementation than the military part of it -- of civil administrators, et cetera. I would imagine the U.N. would have a very large role in aspects of it.
What we have always anticipated -- and don't lock us into this, because the situation can change -- but a Security Council resolution endorsing a settlement that all three parties had signed, and mandating some kind of peacekeeping implementing force which NATO could be asked to organize. There are different ways it might be done, but that's one way it might be done.
Q: Would you dispute the conclusion that there was far more agreement between the two Presidents on what needs to be done once a peace agreement is reached than on what needs to be done to get to a peace agreement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there certainly was agreement on what would need to be done once an agreement is reached, but I don't think you should exaggerate or have any sense of great disagreement about what should be done in the meantime. Lifting the arms embargo came up, on which they both agree. President Izetbegovic understands that we simply could not get that resolution to the Security Council.
Q: But did he ask that it be lifted in other ways?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He didn't press us to make another try. No, he did not.
Q: So how did he bring it up then?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I honestly don't remember exactly how it came up in the conversation --
Q: You see, what I'm trying to fathom is outside Izetbegovic said the talks were both very productive and very frank. And when you get into very frank, that usually means we don't agree on every point. And as he elaborated, it seemed -- he seemed to indicate that while he wanted more robust action by the United States and the West to get to an agreement, he really didn't get more out of Clinton than Clinton had said in the past.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They were very frank in the sense of being very sober. President Izetbegovic, as I said, has a very clear understanding of the limits of outside military intervention and the limits of -- and he said that he did not expect unilateral American military action. He knows the limits of what NATO is prepared to do and the U.N. is prepared to authorize. Obviously he wishes -- as I would wish if I were in his situation --that the world were doing more for him. Certainly he would like to see the arms embargo lifted, as would President Clinton. But he made clear he knows that that's not in our power to do.
Q: You said the Bosnia operation would be so big that only NATO could manage it. How big are you talking about? And how big the U.S. contingent?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If I knew exactly the stage of NATO contingency plannings, as the contingency plans have adjusted as the negotiations -- they keep changing as the negotiations evolve. If I knew, I probably shouldn't say. And the size of the American contingent -- that, too, is something to be decided later.
Q: You can't give any idea, any ballpark figure?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q: any cutoff where the U.N. could handle and above which NATO would have to handle it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. I probably would get it wrong if I tried to guess.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END7:30 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269099