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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

August 23, 1995

Memorial Chapel

Fort Myer, Virginia

1:42 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: For those of you who are covering the memorial service today, I want to amplify several things that the President said. And then several of you are asking about the President's -- what he's doing right now.

First, as the President said during the memorial service, he is awarding the Presidential Citizens Medal to each of the three who gave their lives in Bosnia. That is a medal that was established for the purpose of recognizing citizens of the United States of America who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens.

You'll also see in a paper, and I want to call your attention to it, that in recognition of the service of all three, they are getting from their individual agencies the highest award that each of the departments can give. So Ambassador Frasure will receive the Department of State's Distinguished Service Award. Dr. Kruzel will receive the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service. And Colonel Drew will receive the Defense Distinguished Service Medal. So those are additional tributes to each of the three who died.

The President right now is getting ready to leave. I'll tell you, he had a very brief caucus with his senior foreign policy advisers. The President has been briefed fairly regularly by National Security Adviser Tony Lake on the conversations that Ambassador Holbrooke and General Clark have been having with the parties in conflict in Bosnia that were -- that composed the delegation and included the three that we honor today. The President, as I said, has been getting kind of updates on their work to date. And he wants to make sure that we build on the momentum that has been offered by the three who were participating in the diplomatic discussions that were underway in Bosnia and in Europe.

So today the President has instructed Ambassador Holbrooke, that's Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs Holbrooke, to return to former Yugoslavia on Sunday, this coming Sunday, to continue to do the work of looking for the right combination of factors that could lead to a peace agreement in Bosnia.

He also today is appointing four additional members of our delegation that will be going abroad. The first is Roberts Owen, who has currently been working as the arbitrator for the Bosnian Federation. Some of you know that one of the steps that the United States has achieved in dealing with the conflict in Bosnia is to build a federation between the Bosnian Muslims and the Bosnian Croats. Roberts Owen, who is a former legal adviser to the U.S. Department of State, has been one of the key mediators in resolving some of the technical issues that developed between the Croats and the Muslims as they put together this federation. He will now be elevated to the title of Senior Adviser to the Secretary of State and will take a key role in some of the negotiations that are occurring.

Brigadier General Donald Kerrick, who is currently Director of the National Military Intelligence Center at the Department of Defense, will join the delegation. He'll be on detail to the NSC.

James Pardew is currently Director of the Balkan Task Force in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and a retired Army Colonel, will join the team, as will Christopher Hill, who is currently Office Director of the South-Central European Affairs Section at the State Department and formerly our Charge in Albania.

Now, the President, after meeting with his foreign policy advisers right now, is meeting with these new members of our Bosnia team. He is mostly telling them the importance of building on the work that had been done by Ambassador Frasure, Dr. Kruzel and Colonel Drew. And he's really sending them back out into the field now to pursue the diplomatic discussions that we will hope will lead to a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Bosnia.

Q: Mike, where specifically are they going in Yugoslavia? And what about the meeting, I believe, in Paris next week?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, their itinerary is going to be determined over the next couple of days prior to their departure on Sunday. And some of you may know that the French have announced that President Izetbegovic of Bosnia will be meeting in Paris with President Chirac this coming week. And we're going to work out the itinerary with the possibility that this delegation might actually stop in Paris on their way back into the region.

Q: What's the main point that they want -- that they want to get to at this point? Is it --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, what we had -- when these three died and gave their lives, they, of course, were on their way to Sarajevo to continue to explore with the parties who are in conflict in Bosnia the elements of a new U.S. initiative which is designed to give all of the parties the best chance of achieving a peaceful settlement of this conflict, at a time when in different ways and different parts of Bosnia, each of them are -- have been engaged in military offensives. We continue to believe that the time for military action is over in the best interests of the people of Bosnia, and now is the time for a peace discussion. And we do believe, because of recent changes on the ground in Bosnia, that there is a moment of opportunity that we can use to try to build this peace discussion. That is exactly what these three diplomats who gave their lives were doing. And the President stressed today to the new members of this team the importance of building on that progress.

Q: Mike, do you have a response to the two former State Department officials who in an op-ed piece today accused the -- say the administration's new U.S. initiative is a sellout of the Bosnian government?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, both of them have expressed their views before, and I believe they've expressed them equally as strongly in the past. The President just disagrees with their argument and believes that what we are doing now represents the best possibility of bringing about a peaceful settlement to this conflict. And the formula that was offered today in their article was really a formula for expanding the war in Bosnia. And the President believes that what is best for the people of Bosnia is to try to bring to the conflict to a peaceful end.

Q: They were on their way to Sarajevo when they were killed. Is there any reason to believe the Bosnian government has sort of changed its position -- (inaudible) -- willing to have a settlement?

MR. MCCURRY: We are in the midst of a very delicate set of negotiations with the Bosnian government, with Serbia, and with the government in Croatia. And it is sufficient to say at this point that there are reasons to continue the important work that the three diplomats that we honor today have begun. And we wouldn't be doing it if we didn't believe -- (inaudible) -- to do, and if we didn't believe that at least we had some chance of success, because it's far more important to pursue peace at this point than to expand the conflict. So we are proceeding, but obviously because we're in the midst of delicate negotiations, we're not going to be commenting much about the different types of discussions that we're having with the parties at this point.

Q: Mike, do this it's helped or hurt the peace process, the deaths of these three men? Has it helped or hurt? Has it had any -- what effect?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the deaths of these three make -- are a very poignant reminder to us that the United States is engaged in the world -- there's a very human element and a very real dynamic that pushed the United States in the middle of very difficult conflicts. These three gave their lives because they thought it was important for the United States to assert a leadership role at this point in this conflict, to try to bring this war to an end so the killing will stop. So their sacrifice is very much worth it, because they've created an opportunity for us to build on some momentum in the diplomatic process that we hope can lead to a peace settlement instead of more war. But -- we acknowledge, and anyone who has worked on this problem has acknowledged, and these three knew how desperately difficult it is to bring about a resolution to this conflict in what has historically been one of the most troubled regions in the world.

Q: Mike, in terms of the team now that you have, four new people -- Holbrooke -- (inaudible) --

MR. MCCURRY: Both Ambassador Holbrooke and General Wesley Clark will continue to be very key members of this team. They will be supplemented now by the diplomats who have been named today by the President. In a sense we're -- in a way elevating this delegation to building on the work of the three who we honor today by expanding the team that's now going to be working on the Bosnian problem.

Q: What exactly do these new men bring --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you can tell from their backgrounds, each have got a wealth of experience, both handling military integration questions and dealing with very difficult negotiations. Roberts Owen is recognized, I think, around the world as one of the most skilled diplomatic negotiators. The other three augment some of the things that both Dr. Kruzel and Colonel Drew brought to the team. And clearly we're not -- we're not -- and in a way all three who died today are irreplaceable. But these four that we add to the team today will bring many of the same strengths and balance that were offered by the three who gave their lives -- will bring more, too, as we really press to invigorate the diplomacy that we are bringing to bear on Bosnia.

Let me just take one more and then -- (inaudible). White House pool, you're on notice -- we're going to -- you may to have -- (inaudible). Anything more?

Q: Mike, did the President meet with the Bosnian Foreign Minister, who I understand was here?

MR. MCCURRY: He did not see Foreign Minister Sacirbey to my knowledge. Foreign Minister Silajdzic is related to the Kruzel family. I will tell you that Assistant Secretary Holbrooke briefed various members of the foreign diplomatic corps that was here at the -- here at the ceremony. They arrived a little bit early. He briefed, as far as I know, representatives from -- representatives from Canada, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the United Nations Special Representative for Yugoslavia and the European Union. Foreign Minister Sacirbey was also here. I don't believe he participated in the briefing, because, of course, Assistant Secretary Holbrooke actually met with him initially as he presented the U.S. initiative to the Bosnian government.

Q: Just one last question. How much of this accelerated effort by the administration to take advantage of this moment of opportunity is trying to beat Congress back from recess so that you don't have to face a possible override of the President's veto of the lifting of the arms embargo.

MR. MCCURRY: Congress will act as Congress sees fit. And what we are trying to do is bring a conflict -- desperately tragic conflict -- to an end. We had three good Americans who gave their lives in the pursuit of that goal. We will continue to press that case, because we want this war to end. We want the killing to stop. And we want the people of Bosnia to have some chance for peace. That's what the United States Congress wants, too. The Congress and the President just have a different idea about how to bring that about at this point. The President is stressing diplomacy that can lead to a peace agreement. Congress is on a path that says the only hope is to expand the war and to let the parties fight it out. And the President still hopes that we should at this point, and still believes at this point, that we should give peace a chance.

Q: Is there a deal in the work to get Harry Wu released?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything new on that.

Q: Does Clinton expect to stay a decision on that, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: Don't know.

END 1:56 P.M. EDT

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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