Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
6:15 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: For two and a half hours, the principals met for over two and a half hours this afternoon to discuss the situation in Bosnia, including the fall of Srebrenica; the options regarding preserving the integrity of the enclaves in eastern Bosnia; the humanitarian situation in Bosnia; upcoming meetings of the North Atlantic Council; the proposal of British Prime Minister Major, who President Clinton talked to this afternoon; for meetings of military chiefs of staff; and efforts in Congress to lift the arms embargo unilaterally. It was a broad-ranging discussion, overall review of U.S. policy as it relates to Bosnia.
The principals recommended to the President that U.S. policy remain to support and urge the continued presence of UNPROFOR in Bosnia to alleviate the humanitarian situation there. The principals also recommended that we continue to investigate ways to support lift and equipment to the rapid reaction force, and that we urge the Congress to support the administration's decision to do so.
The President got a briefing on the recommendations of the principals a short while ago from the National Security Advisor and from Chief of Staff. And based on that recommendation, the President has made the following decisions:
He will send General Shalikashvili to the ministers' --it's actually called Chiefs of Defense, the CHODs, who will meet in London on Sunday. The President has instructed General Shalikashvili to have a very serious discussion of the feasibility of proposals that are now on the table related to both the eastern enclaves and to Sarajevo. And the General will most likely report back to the President, to the principals, prior to an anticipated meeting of the Ministers of Defense and ministers -- well, a proposed meeting of Ministers of Defense and Foreign Ministers that would occur sometime perhaps later next week.
That also has been suggested by the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister has said that publicly.
Q: In London?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, in London.
Q: Where is the meeting of the Chief of Staff on Sunday?
MR. MCCURRY: The meeting will be Sunday in London.
Q: And you said the Chiefs of Staff of all --
MR. MCCURRY: The Chiefs of Staff of the military, the so-called CHODs. They are basically the military Chiefs of Staff.
Q: They're not the Defense Ministers.
Q: Can I ask you --
Q: Anything else?
Q: The five countries --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, there was -- in summarizing, I would say that there -- you all have been asking me today about a truncated version of a proposal that you're hearing about publicly from the French, and there was no specific decision about that request from the French, but an agreement that that ought to be explored more carefully and that certain important questions related to such a military mission ought to be asked by the General and discussed with his counterparts from NATO.
Q: Isn't time running out?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is -- the situation is certainly urgent and dire in Zepa. And the reports -- we're getting very conflicting reports there of what the situation on the ground is. We're monitoring very carefully the situation in the other eastern enclaves, in Tuzla and Gorazda.
Q: Mike, just very quickly on the recommendations from the principals group -- the last one, on lift and equipment, could you read that one again?
MR. MCCURRY: I just said that they are -- we have said in the past and said all along that we are in a position -- that we would be willing to support the RRF by providing lift and equipment, and we would also urge Congress to support the administration's effort to do so. That's not implying a specific decision related to any of the proposals that will be under review.
Q: I understand that. Did the principals recommend that U.S. forces take part in airlifts of men and equipment in Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: They did not. They reviewed that question, but they made very clear there are a series of very important questions that General Shalikashvili must review and they need to resolve those questions. And they, it would be important to say, reaffirmed our commitment to keep U.S. ground troops out of the conflict.
Q: The President did not attend the principals meeting, is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: He did not. He had a briefing on the results from the National Security Advisor and from the Chief of Staff.
Q: And the humanitarian aspect of this, can we expect other decisions forthcoming very soon on that, given the situation?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. There have been, in fact, some that have been announced earlier today, as you know. The State Department announced earlier today that we're providing $5 million in humanitarian assistance to deal with the refugee outflow from Srebrenica. I believe Nick covered that in his briefing over there.
Q: Who does that go to?
MR. MCCURRY: I think principally NGOs have briefed on that at State.
Q: The President made one decision, Mike? To send Shali --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that --
Q: Is that what it boils down to -- one decision?
MR. MCCURRY: He's made one essential decision that we're talking about here now, and that's to send Shalikashvili. There were a series of other things that were discussed and that were agreed --
Q: Are these CHODs a NATO group?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q: Based on what you said, Mike, when can we expect a reply to the French proposal? You said that Shali has to go and to come back, so how many days will it take to get --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that will depend on the nature of the conversations Sunday.
Q: Can you give us an estimate?
MR. MCCURRY: And it depends on how quickly -- if there is an agreement on certain issues that are raised and discussed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs on Sunday.
Q: So we wouldn't expect any kind of other UNPROFOR decisions before the Shali meeting regarding the future of UNPROFOR or a response to Chirac or anything like that? That's the next step.
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct -- the next step in this process will be to review these issues by General Shalikashvili and his counterparts on Sunday. And we wouldn't -- there wouldn't be any steps taken in the future of UNPROFOR between now and then.
Q: Given the urgency, though, is it possible --
MR. MCCURRY: With the exception, perhaps, given the urgency of some kind of humanitarian relief and issues of that nature.
Q: Have the French moved back their 48-hour deadline?
Q: Yes -- what about the 48 hours?
Q: The 48 hours, we're not going to make that, are we?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't -- 48 hours I think was just a shorthand reference of a need for quick decision-making. I haven't heard the French suggest that this is an unacceptable plan.
Q: What if Zepa and Gorazda have fallen before Monday? I mean, it's a matter of days for Zepa and maybe for Gorazda. So what -- all this is going to be a bit pointless in the end.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the situation in Zepa, as I said, is very dire, has been very dire for the past 24 hours. And the reports from the there make it unclear whether it is in the same status as Srebrenica.
Q: -- that there won't be a decision about Zepa before Monday at the soonest?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I've answered that by telling you want the timetable is for the meetings.
Q: -- Major phone call that you -- it was a half-hour at length?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't get the duration of the call. They had a very good review of the issues. The President appreciated very much and continued to review with the Prime Minister these details. The Prime Minister briefed the President on his intent to call for these public meetings, and there was some discussion about how they could --
Q: What other countries are at this Sunday meeting? Is it the Contact Group countries, or NATO members?
MR. MCCURRY: It's the NATO CHODs.
Q: What about the dire humanitarian situation, with all these Muslims --
MR. MCCURRY: Could you hold on just one second. Could you go check, I need to check whether it is that 16 or whether it is the Contact Group -- I mean UNPROFOR people participants.
Q: Is there any discussion of some sort of allied help for all of these people who have been rounded up and put in these camps with no food, water?
MR. MCCURRY: There has been discussion of that issue within our government about how to deal with the humanitarian situation and how to get additional foodstuffs and supplies to the organizations that may or may not have some success in distributing them. So it's a very dire situation; we're looking at how best to alleviate that human suffering.
Q: Has it gone beyond the discussions, though? I mean, are there any concrete plans, or is that going to have to wait for all these meetings?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. The work that can be done on the humanitarian issue, working with the existing humanitarian lifelines in Bosnia will proceed. This is unrelated to the military discussions that would be underway by General Shalikashvili.
Q: Did Major give a go-ahead on all this in the sense that he was supposed to be clearing with Major or nothing would have been done? That was the word we were -- that unless Great Britain went along with the President's ideas -- these aren't ideas yet even, are they?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes -- I would suggest that we're at a stage of which through we can share thinking on various proposals by having this review by the senior military commanders.
Q: Can you elaborate a little bit on the hard questions that you indicated that General Shalikashvili -- particularly the question of American helicopters flying over Serb-held territory?
MR. MCCURRY: I really am not going to elaborate on the questions other than to say that they would obviously relate to the nature of the mission, the arrangements for command and control, the likelihood for success, duration of the proposed mission, and the types of questions related to those general subjects that you would imagine we'd want to have answered. But I decline to go beyond that.
Q: Did the United States take the position that this should not be a U.N. command and control situation with the dual key and all the rest of it?
MR. MCCURRY: I would imagine that would be a general subject of discussion on Sunday.
Q: Will the French be at this meeting Sunday? And have they okayed these meetings?
MR. MCCURRY: I am announcing that the President has approved General Shalikashvili's participation. I think I have to leave it up to other governments to describe their participation and the level of their participation.
Q: Mike, you said that the principals discussed efforts by some in Congress to lift the arms embargo. Is Shali going to be dealing with that issue at all on Sunday? Has the President directed him to explore that issue a little bit more with his counterparts?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there will be -- there is intense interest in that issue in Europe. I would suspect that subject will come up as a point of information. There are clearly others in our government who have been in contact with our allies to apprise them of the status of decision-making in our legislative branch of government. But the status of that measure itself is very unclear as various members of the Senate seek to work with Senator Dole to modify the language.
Q: Was there anything to come out of the meeting today that indicated that the administration was changing its position at all on that issue about the arms embargo, such as possibly making a push with the allies to have a multilateral --
MR. MCCURRY: No. We have described our very strong reasoning to be adamantly opposed to unilateral lift of the arms embargo. We've also described the conditions in which lifting the arms embargo in our view would become necessary as a last resort and could be unavoidable. Our views did not change on that as a result of this meeting. But this meeting did involve a fair amount of time in discussion about the Dole amendment and what the emerging language of the Dole amendment might be.
Q: Is the President not going to Camp David now because of this issue? You told us this morning he was going.
MR. MCCURRY: That's unclear, and I should have asked the President just now; I didn't. I didn't remember to do that.
Q: As a practical matter, since this meeting won't occur until Sunday and any actual decision on military action couldn't take place until after that, have you made a decision in principle to allow Zepa to fall?
MR. MCCURRY: By no means. And the existing UNPROFOR and NATO authorities and decisions that are in place remain in place.
Q: Just to clarify, what is it that's on the table in London when General Shali gets there? Is he taking with him --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are proposals -- you asked me a great deal earlier today about one that emanates from the French, but there are additional proposals as well, and there is collective thinking going into the question of UNPROFOR's future in Bosnia and ways to make that more effective, and to strengthen the U.N. presence in UNPROFOR. So I think there are a variety of ideas that are now being discussed between the capitals, and they will all be discussed accordingly.
Q: Wouldn't it change the role of UNPROFOR really, to make it into a fighting group? Make it into a much more militarily active --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they've talked about ways in which UNPROFOR could be strengthened, but it doesn't change the essential feature of UNPROFOR as it now exists. It is not currently a participant in -- it's not a combatant on behalf of one side or another.
Q: Well, would it be in the future? I mean, if it tries to prevent an army from going into a town --
MR. MCCURRY: That might, in fact, be the type of issue that might be raised on Sunday. So I'll have to defer on that.
Q: Well, you don't believe that the U.N. -- the 1004, I believe it is, the one that was just passed -- does that change their status at all by giving them all necessary to --
MR. MCCURRY: There's nothing about Op Plan 4104 that's inconsistent with --
Q: Not 4104, I'm talking about the most recent U.N. resolution on -- demanding that the Serbs give back Srebrenica and authorizing the Secretary General --
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing that I'm aware of.
Q: Is anything being done to strengthen the UNPROFOR forces in Gorazda before Sunday?
MR. MCCURRY: There's nothing -- no decisions taken at this meeting that would relate to that. But that would be a question that would be an ongoing issue before UNPROFOR and one that I think you should direct to UNPROFOR.
Q: Will the Russians be at the Sunday meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I'm checking right now. I just want to make absolutely sure I didn't make a misjudgment. It shouldn't have taken that long to get that.
Q: What are the prospects that Sunday's meeting will produce a united course of action from the UNPROFOR allies?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it certainly is the President's hope that it would emerge with just that; that it would be recommendations -- clearly, these will be senior military commanders, so they would have to report back to capitals, most likely. But our hope is that would continue -- it would be a meeting that would contribute to the effort to maintain the alliance, the solidarity of the alliance, and the ability to address the conflict in Bosnia in concert with our allies.
Q: What's the President doing on this? Is he making phone calls?
MR. MCCURRY: I said he talked to Prime Minister Major today and he's been very closely monitoring the developments.
Q: But he did not attend any of the meetings?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the meetings were designed to prepare recommendations for him. So, as you would expect, the principals needed to discuss among themselves their recommendations to the President.
Q: And then Lake presented them to the President ?
MR. MCCURRY: As is usually the case, yes.
Q: Was Major the only leader overseas that he did speak with today?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q: Mike, do you know what day the foreign ministers will meet next week?
MR. MCCURRY: No, and that will -- that's a proposal from the British, and then that will be reviewed, no doubt, at the meeting on Sunday.
Q: Mike, I apologize if I missed this -- where is the President going to be this weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: I forgot to ask. I didn't have an answer. I'm not sure whether he'll stay here or whether he will go to Camp David.
Q: Is there any dealing with the Serbs in terms of the humanitarian -- of letting people in and --
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is there have been discussions between UNACR and the Serbs. The U.N. would be in a better position to brief on that.
Yes -- at the very least, the meeting of Chiefs of Defense will include the U.S., the British and the French. That is still being set up, and I am told the structure of the meeting itself has not yet been determined. That will happen over the next several hours. I think various capitals are now doing exactly as we've just done -- a review, a proposal for the meeting, the structure, the discussion of determining whether or not they will participate and at what level.
Okay. Thank you, everyone.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 6:30 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269857