Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

May 30, 1995

The Briefing Room

1:20 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: And a happy Tuesday to all of you. I hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend, and we are ready to begin our briefing with a question from Wolf Blitzer.

Q: Was it a mistake for the Clinton administration to push for NATO air strikes without --


Q: without thinking through the possibility that hostages might be taken?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, had not there been some judgments and some contingency planning on various events on the ground, it would have been ill-advised. But that type of contingency planning did occur through UNPROFOR -- UNPROFOR on the ground is the one that has to make contingency plans related to U.N. personnel dispersed and deployed throughout the former Yugoslavia.

But remember, too, that the context in which air strikes occurred were wanton violations of the U.N. order of exclusions zones around Sarajevo, the shelling of innocent civilians, and a general deterioration in the status of the fighting ongoing in Bosnia. There had been a deep escalation in the fighting. There had been civilian deaths. There had been -- arguably, one of the only positive things that you could say about Bosnia in the past six months is that the situation in and around Sarajevo was somewhat less strenuous for the citizens of Sarajevo; that had deteriorated significantly. So air strikes in that context were an appropriate step by the international community, and so declared by all the members of the U.N. Security Council.

Q: Are you saying that the taking of 400 U.N. peacekeepers was considered beforehand in the part of the plan, and also surrender?

MR. MCCURRY: It had to have been considered as one of the likely responses from the Serbs. It was, obviously, not judged to be the most likely scenario. But it had to have been considered as a scenario. And each and every time air strikes have been ordered, the possibility of some type of reprisal by the Serbs has been one of the considered responses. It's been one of the reasons why our European allies have been reluctant to take a step, and indeed, why UNPROFOR itself, on the ground, has been reluctant to request that type of assistance from NATO.

Q: Can you clarify your answer to Wolf's question? You're saying that UNPROFOR is responsible for making the plans to keep their people safe and carrying them out? You're saying that in this case they either didn't make the plans or didn't implement them?

MR. MCCURRY: I said that UNPROFOR and UNPROFOR commanders have responsibility for the deployment of U.N. personnel in and around Bosnia, and they also, since they coordinate closely with NATO, have to take into account in their planning the possibility of Bosnian Serb reprisal. The extent to which they did, the extent to which they took into account the possibility of this type of reprisal is something that UNPROFOR is, in fact, addressing even today as we speak.

Q: President Clinton in the past has committed thousands of U.S. troops -- that thousands of U.S. troops would participate in the evacuation of the U.N. peacekeepers if that was necessary, if an evacuation took place. Does that commitment still stand?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has indicated that we participate in contingency planning at NATO. One of the contingency plans underway is the, we hope, unlikely event of an extraction of U.N. personnel from Bosnia. And we've said to our European allies and our NATO allies that we won't leave you in the lurch, that we will stand by our commitments to be of assistance. But there's been no specific contingency plan implemented, nor any particular order given for the deployment of troops in the theater.

Q: What are the Marines doing there?

Q: Why has President Clinton, since this all started late last week, not been willing to speak about it? We tried to talk to him yesterday; he wouldn't speak yesterday. He's not going to give us any opportunities today.

MR. MCCURRY: I expect he may have something to say about it tomorrow.

Q: And will he answer questions on it at all or have any exchanges on it, or just make a speech?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it depends on what format he chooses to address it.

Q: You and the Secretary of State and officials traveling with him have all refused to rule out the possibility of using the Marines on the Roosevelt in a commando raid to rescue the hostages. If, as you said this morning, there is no change in the President's policy of not allowing ground troops to become involved, where do these people fit in? It's not a withdrawal and it's not --

MR. MCCURRY: As with deployments connected to ongoing operations in a theater like that, we routinely say we don't necessarily rule in or rule out any specific options. But I wasn't commenting one way or another on the likelihood of those options.

Q: Mike, will you elaborate, when you say that the President might have something further? Something to say tomorrow, I take it, in the Air Force Academy speech. What will be the theme of that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the work -- our Air Force has done extraordinary work through NATO and enforcement of the no-fly zone and providing material support for lift to the region for the humanitarian effort that's been underway. The Air Force has been an important ingredient of NATO's effort to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions. And I expect the President might address that, might have something to say on the larger context in which the Bosnia conflict must be judged.

Q: What about your suggestion moments ago that he might have something to say about the more specific Bosnia situation we now face? Did I misunderstand that? I'm sorry.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know that there will be much specific to say at that point. The United Nations Security Council is going to have to meet to review the suggestions from the Secretary General on how UNPROFOR's mission might be addressed. That's not going to happen in the next 24 hours, I don't believe.

There will also be developments coming out of The Hague where the NAC ministers have been meeting. Secretary Christopher at this very hour is having a press conference at which I suspect he'll have a number of questions about Bosnia and about the meeting of the Contact Group ministers last night. So he will authoritatively represent the U.S. position on the latest in the discussions and the diplomatic efforts to bring the conflict to an end. There are a lot of pieces in play. I suspect the President will have a general comment about Bosnia tomorrow.

Q: No policy announcements in the speech?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't anticipate -- our policy has been aimed at the difficult and, some would say, not entirely happy choices that the United States faces at this moment, participating with the United Nations within UNPROFOR and obviously leading NATO in its response to requests from UNPROFOR. There are not many happy choices that are available in dealing with a conflict, a large part of which was set in motion three years ago.

Q: If it became necessary to commit U.S. ground troops either as part of the evacuation of peacekeepers or in some kind of other way, does the President think there is now the political will in this country to support that kind of move?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President feels within the United States there is strong public support for making good on commitments that we have extended to our European allies that have helped keep the peace and helped the United States with its alliance emerged victorious in the aftermath of the Cold War. And I believe that those commitments are, in some cases, very solemn obligations that we have because those are the nature of the obligations that exist under the North Atlantic Treaty.

Q: Senator Lugar, among others on the Hill, has complained that the President had not done enough to prepare the American public for the possibility that 25,000 ground troops may have to be deployed to Bosnia in the coming weeks to help it in evacuation.

MR. MCCURRY: Senator Lugar can check the record. The President has spoken out dozens of times on the situation in Bosnia. I can tell you personally, as someone who has spent most of the last two years wrestling with the enormous complexity of the issues of Bosnia, that there have been no unwillingness on the part of the this administration to articulate the very hard choices that exist.

The President has been very clear in expressing to the American public his determination to keep U.S. ground forces out of this conflict, because he does not judge our vital strategic interests to be sufficiently engaged to warrant that type of deployment. And I suspect on that question the United States public has heard the President loud and clear and is very supportive of that view.

Q: I'd like to follow up on that question. Does the President feel, in fact, there's been a lot of pressure from people on the Hill, like Senator Dole, who's been very hawkish on Bosnia to have air strikes, and does he feel that those people are now not supporting him in his hour where he needs their support --

MR. MCCURRY: I would have to -- I'm not conversant enough in what Senator Dole has said on air strikes. I do know that the Senator is a strong proponent of unilaterally lifting the arms embargo that exists on former Yugoslavia. And as the administration has often suggested, that takes -- the United States would take on through unilateral lift, unilateral responsibility for the conduct of that war.

There are those on Capitol Hill now who it seems to the White House come perilously close to arguing that the United States should take on unilateral responsibility for the outcome of this conflict in the heart of Europe. And that is a very difficult judgment to make as you measure the strategic interests of the United States that might be at stake in that conflict. No doubt there are some of our European allies that would be more than willing to accede to us that role. But it has not been one that the President has chosen.

Q: What precise commitments did the President make in connection with the military that have moved there offshore? Will they be -- what is their role?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, their role -- they are there, as Secretary of Defense Perry has indicated, as a precautionary measure as we reassess the U.N. mission on the ground. It is not -- they are there in the event that some of the contingency plans that have been developed by NATO military planners are requested by UNPROFOR commanders on the ground.

Q: I don't quite understand what that means. Let us say that NATO goes forward with what you call regrouping, what others call tactical retreat. Are we committed to protect them as they leave? What is the commitment?

MR. MCCURRY: The Contact Group ministers met last night and agreed to enhance the capability and strength of UNPROFOR to ensure that it can carry out its mission safely and effectively. And the United States stands ready to provide appropriate support to that end. I'm not going to speculate on what that might be over at the Pentagon right now. They're answering questions from your colleagues about what type of assistant might be provided. And I think they're in a better position than I am to provide some specific answers.

Q: Well, the President had discussions with some of the European leaders this weekend. What commitment did he make is what we're asking, not what the Pentagon is --

MR. MCCURRY: He made a commitment to stand with our allies in NATO as they respond to requests that come from UNPROFOR. He made clear that we will remain engaged with them in the pursuit of a diplomatic settlement to the conflict.

Q: The confusion may arise from the fact that the President has been pretty clear about the circumstances under which American ground forces might appear in that part of the world, and one of them was in the event of some kind of an agreed-upon peace they would be there as peacekeepers. That's obviously not in play here.

The other was, as you outlined it here just moments ago, if there was an extraction of troops the U.S. would be there to participate in making sure that went forward without undue danger to the departing forces. The third possibility that's been raised by events over the weekend is there might be some sort of rescue mission involved, which some officials have said they can't rule out, which you never know whether that means anything or not. So the question that arises is, is there at least a possibility of another exception to the general rule of Mr. Clinton's policy of no ground troops?

MR. MCCURRY: The United States indicated, as a participant in the Contact Group ministerial statement issued last night in The Hague, that we would ask military experts to examine specific proposals -- I think in this case arising from both France and the United Kingdom -- toward achieving the objective of assuring freedom of movement and safety for UNPROFOR personnel. I'm not in a position based on the initiation of a review by military experts to speculate on what form that assistance might take.

Q: Have you ruled out the use of troops?

Q: Well, is that what --

MR. MCCURRY: That is what is being speculated freely by many of your colleagues as a possible third mission.

Q: Those Marines whose presence is known all over the world was ordered last week as a "precaution." And it doesn't appear that we're on the verge of any extraction of troops on the scale that has been contemplated before, and there's a whole Rube Goldberg chain of command that would all have to go through. So the question is what could they possibly be there for --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, within NATO, military planners have for months and months examined various contingencies. And it would be foolhardy for the United States not to take precautionary measures as a participant in NATO to deal with those contingency plans. But beyond that is a lot of speculation and heavy breathing on the part of your colleagues.

Q: If I could ask you about -- you said the President has --

Q: That's a change in policy.

MR. MCCURRY: It's been our policy consistently to participate in that contingency planning and to provide assistance within NATO to the plans that are being carried out by NATO commanders. Now, at the same time, the Commander in Chief has not given any order to deploy any U.S. units into a combat situation in Bosnia. That is also abundantly clear, and that has been our longstanding policy.

Q: As Brit said, there's only two possibilities that the President has ever talked about. So raising the possibility of a third is a change in policy.

MR. MCCURRY: -- is not correct. The President has talked about the type of assistance we would extend to our NATO allies as they carry out a very difficult mission on the ground as elements of UNPROFOR. There has been no change in our view on that, and we've made clear from the beginning that we would be there for our allies.

Q: The President has spoken already with President Chirac and Prime Minister Major. Has he tried to speak to Boris Yeltsin?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. Most of the contact that we've had with the Russian Federation has been directly with the Russian Foreign Minister who participated in the meetings at The Hague last night with Secretary Christopher.

Q: Is he talking to any other leaders besides Major and Chirac?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe, unless he's talked to someone today that I'm not aware of, he spoke with the French President and the British Prime Minister only.

Q: And the U.N. -- Boutros-Ghali?

MR. MCCURRY: He's not talked to the Secretary General to my knowledge.

Q: Have the British and the French asked that the U.S. be ready to help extract hostages? Is that what you're trying to say?

MR. MCCURRY: To the contrary. I think most of the discussions the President has had reaffirmed the commitment to keep UNPROFOR in Bosnia-Herzegovina to carry out a very important mission.

Q: I mean the hostages, per se.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.

Q: The hostages.

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not aware of any discussion that the President's had related to any missions in connection with those who are being held captive by Bosnian Serbs.

Q: Mike, on the Lugar comments, I think his point was -- he said, we're getting close to decision time. The President has made clear the cases in which he would introduce troops. But what has not been clear is how close we are to making that decision. It would appear we're headed for some kind of action that the presence of 300 U.N. peacekeepers hostage is an untenable situation.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is a situation in and of itself that has changed. You all heard General Miladic yesterday and today indicated different posture related to that. So we are watching those events closely on the ground. We're in close contact with the United Nations. Your suggestion that decision-making or Senator Lugar's suggestion that decision-making is imminent might be in and of itself premature.

Q: Does the President feel any obligation to consult with Congress as the situation progresses? And are there -- any of the options he's considering, would any of them require him to get some kind of approval from Congress before he went ahead with it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we routinely update Congress on our participation within NATO in support activities for UNPROFOR. That's a routine part of our consultation. And given the deterioration of the situation in Bosnia, the need for consultation is even clearer. There has been a great deal of consultation. Certainly Secretary Christopher will be briefing the appropriate members of Congress upon return from his extended trip to the NAC ministerial. But I'd describe the level of consultation on the issue of Bosnia with the Congress as being extensive and will likely remain so.

Q: Is there anything you need approval to do that is on your list of possibilities?

MR. MCCURRY: We comply fully with the reporting requirements in law. In fact, I think we just sometime last week sent up our most recent six-month review of the status of forces in Bosnia.

Q: Is there any contingency plan if harm comes to the hostages on a massive scale? Or have they been given an ultimatum? Have the Serbs been giving an ultimatum that if they harm the hostages, something will happen?

MR. MCCURRY: It has been made very clear to the Bosnian Serb leadership that any casualties arising from the current holding of captives of U.N. personnel, the leadership of the Bosnian Serbs and the military leadership in particular would be held personally responsible. That has been communicated in a variety of ways by a variety of NATO members.

Q: I just want to follow up on Susan's question. You said that there has been a lot of consultation. Could you give us some detail? In other words, has the President talked with any of the congressional leaders about this?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe the President has, but we routinely through both the State Department and Defense Department and here keep members of the relevant committees on the Hill apprised on the status of developments in Bosnia.

Q: So that's how it's been happening?

MR. MCCURRY: -- testimony, consultations with staff, and a variety of ways in which we consult.

Q: Isn't it unusual that the President hasn't talked to the Majority Leader -- you've got a situation here that could become explosive, more so, and you're saying he hasn't talked directly to Dole about this?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, Senator Dole has a very decided point of view on many of these issues. But -- and the President is willing to do that should such dire circumstances present themselves. We are working through the same difficult issues in Bosnia that have presented themselves for the last two and a half years. I'm not -- the nature of the events on the ground ebb and flow, but at various points along the way in the last two and a half years, all these same choices in the same parameters of U.S. policy have presented themselves. I'm not sure that there's been a great deal of change in that.

Q: There hasn't been hostages before. Have presidential politics --

MR. MCCURRY: That's not true. That's one of the ongoing problems with the UNPROFOR mission in Bosnia -- has been the continual harassment and detention of U.N. personnel by the Bosnian Serbs. This has happened sporadically for most of the last six months. And it's been a constant source of problems for the U.N. mission there. This latest episode is most egregious. It clearly is connection in connection with even more wanton behavior by the Bosnian Serbs related to civilians both in Tuzla and around Sarajevo. But it is not unlike the pattern that we've seen there for most of the last year or so.

Q: I'm trying to sort out who's blaming who for what now. You started out this briefing stressing that UNPROFOR's responsible for protection of its own people. Yet last week when the strikes began, it was clear the administration was saying, this is our deal we worked hard at, we worked -- blah, blah, blah. We made it happen.

MR. MCCURRY: To correct the record, I don't recall anyone saying that. I don't recall anyone saying that.

Q: Well, there was extensive briefings about how the United States worked the allies very, very hard for days to try to get these strikes in place. And my question is, how much of an effort did we put into the conclusion that seems to now be being blamed on UNPROFOR that they didn't properly have their people protected?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have for some time, along with other NATO countries, urged a more vigorous response to Serb aggression in Bosnia. And we've also been in close consultation through the United Nations with those responsible for their troops on the ground.

The United States, as everyone knows and as we are painfully told from time to time, is not a troop-contributing country in Bosnia in terms of forces on the ground as elements of UNPROFOR. But those who do have troops on the ground have been very conscious of the need for protection of those units. In fact, you could argue, and some do argue, that their posture on questions such as air strikes and the utility of air strikes is governed by the condition of their deployment on the ground. But I think that -- these are not necessarily contradictory goals. Securing forces on the ground as elements of UNPROFOR so they can move freely and conduct their mission effectively and a more robust response to Bosnian Serb aggression -- those do not necessarily, in the view of the United States, have to be mutually exclusive.

Q: But we had no responsibility for tracking the next steps of what might have happened after air strikes that we were --or at least said last week we were heavily responsible for promoting as a needed response.

MR. MCCURRY: We participate in the discussions within the military planning units at NATO on air strikes and the assessment of the effectiveness of air strikes afterwards. But at the same time, we're not on the ground in Bosnia and we don't work through the UNPROFOR chain of command to secure individual units that are on the ground, because that's not a role we have, since we are not a troop- contributing country.

Q: In practical terms, how do you see it not being contradictory to have UNPROFOR doing its business as usual and at the same time protecting itself against hostage taking?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is exactly now the question that the Contact Group ministers have suggested would be timely for military experts to review, and specifically in our case those would be military experts at NATO. How do you enhance the effectiveness and the capability of the U.N. mission and do that in a way they can carry out the mission, be secure in their movement, be able to conduct the various activities and patrols that are required; and then also simultaneously say that to Bosnian Serbs that they -- the type of response that they've issued to the escalation of violence is wholly unsatisfactory.

Q: And why was it not discussed and debated before the air strikes?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there was considerable discussion of these issues, as your colleague was just pointing out, prior to the initiation of air strikes?

Q: Does the U.S. see the hand of the Belgrade Serb leadership in the actions of the Bosnian Serbs taking these hostages?

MR. MCCURRY: Not entirely. We believe they have influence but not operational control or anything like that.

Q: Just to follow up, what is our latest read on the extent to which the Bosnian Serbs are independent actors and what extent --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, given the negotiations between Mr. Milosevic and Ambassador Frasier, and the proximity of some type of agreement on territorial recognition of Bosnia, you would safely argue that they are some considerable distance between the Pale Serbs and the Belgrade Serbs. That's not to say that there's not influence and not collaboration on some issues, but there's also a considerable gulf between them. And that is suggested by the political history of recent months as well.

Q: Why should the Pale Serbs take all these threats from NATO and others seriously?

MR. MCCURRY: Because on numerous occasions NATO has responded to requests from UNPROFOR when they come and dealt with the requests in a very efficient manner.

Q: Mike, I'm still not clear, if requested by UNPROFOR and NATO, would U.S. ground forces be committed to help beef up the UNPROFOR forces now? Not become part of them, but just in terms of logistics, moving more forces into Bosnia, that kind of thing.

MR. MCCURRY: Leo, it's a good question, and let me just suggest to you the question is premature at this point. The most that has happened at this point is that the ministers of the Contact Group have asked their military experts to look at exactly questions like that, and there's been no request for additional activity made yet to the United States.

The United States is prepared, as your colleagues are hearing at the Pentagon right now, to provide a variety of resources and materiel to UNPROFOR should they elect to heavy up certain parts of its mission or take additional steps to meet the stipulations outlined by the Contact Group ministers last night. But it's a little premature at this point to suggest that those requests will be forthcoming. It is accurate to say the United States would be prepared to respond favorably to those types of requests if they are, in fact, made.

Q: To follow up, my understanding all along has been that the President has ruled out permitting ground forces except for two purposes: one, to enforce a political peace settlement; and two, for extraction of UNPROFOR forces. I guess what you're saying now is you're leaving open the possibility of a third purpose where U.S. ground forces may be committed to help beef up, if requested.

MR. MCCURRY: The question -- it was not so narrowly defined as to say that the contingencies NATO looked at dealt with extraction only. To my recollection they were always looking at what would happen as the status of UNPROFOR changed based on events on the ground there, and what role the United States would play if events on the ground changed.

Q: I don't think that's ever --

MR. MCCURRY: Okay. The contingency planning done by NATO went well beyond the issue of just extraction. And that was --

Q: You never said that publicly before.

MR. MCCURRY: I said that publicly over and over again at the State Department.

Q: Has the President himself weighed in on this point in the last 72 hours?

MR. MCCURRY: No, because there's been no occasion upon which, as Commander in Chief, he's facing any imminent decision to place ground troops in the theater, as I said earlier.

Q: What do you mean by the theater?

Q: the hostages --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, that's a good distinction that Brit raises -- on the ground in Bosnia. There are, obviously, in the theater the additional forces that have been deployed, as you know.

Q: What is going to happen to the hostages? The French and the British are asking for action, vigorous action against whoever is responsible. Would you be prepared to follow?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there's no doubt at this point in the minds of the Bosnian Serbs what type of retribution there would be for any wanton violence directed to those who are being held hostage.

Q: But would you go along with the French and British demands to --

MR. MCCURRY: We've made our views, in addition to the British and French, we've made our views very clear.

Q: You said earlier that the President has made it clear that there is no U.S. security national interest in having U.S. ground troops involved there. What is the U.S. interest, now that the situation has changed, what is the U.S. interest that Christopher is arguing in the Europeans keeping their troops in harm's way over there?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that the presence of UNPROFOR has been over time one of the only ingredients that has successfully ameliorated the ability of the warring factions to pursue a war option. It is, in fact, true that the presence of UNPROFOR units, the delivery of humanitarian aid, the desire on the part of both parties at various points to have humanitarian -- have access to humanitarian aid granted has been one of the things that has ameliorated the conflict. There have not been many of them, but it has been true that the presence of UNPROFOR has had that effect.

It is also, within and around Bosnia, been certainly true that the presence of the larger UNPROFOR mission has been one of the things that has prevented the conflict from spilling over elsewhere into the Balkans.

Q: But there are similar wars going on in other places around the world. Chechnya is a good example where the U.S. has not encouraged other countries to get involved. Why in this case, if there's not an interest that's enough for us to get involved, why is there a U.S. interest in urging the Europeans --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because each and every one of these conflicts is different. You mentioned Chechnya; the nature of that conflict is much different from the one in the former Yugoslavia which has a whole different litany of responses that have been ordered by the international community via the United Nations. There are just entirely different situations.

Q: I'm a little confused about the difference between Brit's question as to whether or not there are three different options in terms of putting U.S. troops there, and Leo's question which seems exactly the same. You told Brit no and you told Leo yes.

MR. MCCURRY: No, what I'm saying -- the question is you're trying to more narrowly define options that range or cross a wide variety of contingencies when they're looked at by military planners. What we've indicated over and over again in the context of military planning being done by NATO for contingencies that might need to be addressed by UNPROFOR on the ground is that we will be prepared to be there and to meet our obligations as a member of the Alliance.

Now, we've never said specifically that's going to mean x number of troops on the ground, x number of planes in the air, x number of ships in the Adriatic. We've said that we will be there, we will be there to respond, we understand what our obligations are as a leader of the Alliance, and the President would be prepared to act on that type of request.

Now, we've got, because of the situation on the ground now, a scenario that is not entirely the one that was envisioned a month -- a year ago, when these "two" options that you're discussing were present: one participating as part of a peace settlement, enforcing a peace on the ground that had been met by the warring parties and was in the process of being implemented; and two, some type of contingency planning should shut down and extract. We're dealing now with the situation where there may be a reconfiguration of UNPROFOR's mission, but that is within the contours of the type of planning that's been going on in Brussels for some time.

And what the United States has said and what the President has said consistently is that we understand as a member of the Alliance, as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, we have obligations to our European allies, especially to those who have got troops committed on the ground in Bosnia.

Q: So that U.S. troops could be used in repositioning those troops -- the heavy up that you were talking about a little while ago.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate. We said that we would be there to provide -- as we signed on to a statement, as Secretary Christopher said in his intervention at the North Atlantic Council meeting today, we will be there to provide assistance. We don't know what shape that assistance will take at this point because there will have to be a good deal of planning done by those who are the experts in doing that type of planning. We're looking at French proposals. You know what Prime Minister Juppe has outlined. We're looking at some additional proposals that have been made by the United Kingdom that were reviewed in the phone call between Prime Minister Major and President Clinton, and will be prepared to go forward based on the type of recommendations that the President gets from his military and foreign policy advisors.

Q: Well, will we do whatever they ask, or are there limits?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President will make good judgments based on what he thinks are in the best interests of the American people, obviously.

Q: So much importance is attached to the relationship of Yeltsin, why is there no greater effort to get the two, Clinton and Yeltsin, to talk?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because great nations, great powers talk to each other in a variety of ways. In the last 24 hours we've been talking to them at considerable length face to face in the form of our foreign ministers. That's the appropriate level of contact now. There may very well be a reason they have contact at a higher level. I wouldn't rule that out; in fact, I suspect that might happen.

Q: In a summit?

Q: Today?

MR. MCCURRY: No, just in communications at a higher level as they talk about the problem of Bosnia.

Q: Former Ambassador to Yugoslavia is pointing out that this kind of policy approach -- of former administrations is one reason they are into that kind of mess.


Q: So what would you --

MR. MCCURRY: The Ambassador was our U.S. Ambassador to former Yugoslavia at a very critical moment, and I can well understand why he would want to address that historical record.

Q: Two questions. I know the Serbs have abrogated their agreements with the U.N., but have the Serbs ever specifically said they would harm --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm having trouble hearing you. Could you start over?

Q: Have the Serbs actually ever said they would harm the U.N. troops if the troops begin to pull out?

MR. MCCURRY: There have been, from time to time over the months, suggestions that that might happen. That's not in the past been a threat that they've made good on, but they have done some things in recent days that are not those things which are consistent with their past behavior in response to legitimate action by the international community to attempt to force compliance with various U.N.-order mandates. But they have certainly taken on the posture of a warring party when it -- with respect to the peacekeepers that are there present by order of the international community.

Q: You've said I guess maybe 18 times today that it's "premature" to discuss these various -- U.S. participation in these various options to reconfigure, regroup, whatever you want to call it.

MR. MCCURRY: But to carry on specifically those things asked by the foreign ministers last night. They set in motion something last night, and it's not --

Q: But at what point do you think would be the right time to tell the American people when the President has committed ground troops to a new effort? When they're there, after the President announces it? Should there be any discussion or debate of this?

MR. MCCURRY: There's been thorough briefings on the deployment of the MARG unit to the Adriatic. There has been ongoing discussion, presentations by our --

Q: Briefing to whom?

MR. MCCURRY: At the Pentagon. They've talked about those deployments.

Q: Described at all points as cautionary. When do we find out -- when do people find out what those people are going to be doing? I mean, is there any sense here that there should be some public discussion of the military role when it moves --

MR. MCCURRY: Look, the willingness of this administration to publicly outline out participation in UNPROFOR and NATO has been ongoing. The fact that recent events have caused you all to pay more attention to it than you have been in recent months has not meant that we, on our end, have neglected our responsibility to report to the American people and to the Congress -- to report to the American people and to the Congress on our obligations.

Q: You still haven't answered the question. I mean, at what point do you expect that the approval of all the different governments, and all their foreign ministers, and all their -- meetings will have concluded to the point where the President or someone can say, here's what we're going to do with these 2,000 guys or whatever?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, our participation in whatever recommendations come via the United Nations for NATO enforcement activity or NATO military assistance to the U.N. mission would be fully debated here in the United States, I am sure, and we would certainly properly brief members of Congress. We've got consultation calls that are going on between members of the White House staff and members of the congressional staff. Congress now being in recess, we're probably going to reach staff before we reach members. But we certainly are going to apprise them as to the steps, prudent steps that we are taking so that they understand the parameters of our participation and NATO's efforts and our assistance being rendered to the United Nations mission.

Q: consider these 2,000 Marines the first of the eventual 25,000?

MR. MCCURRY: No, that would not be correct because there has not been any deployment that suggests operational -- no deployment that would suggest that any of the contingency plans NATO has looked at have been made operational at this point.

Q: You said the President's going to talk about Bosnia tomorrow in the address to the Air Force Academy. Is that the start of an effort to educate the public about the options they had and talk about it a little more?

MR. MCCURRY: For the last two and a half years, there has been ongoing discussion of the conflict in Bosnia, and the President, as I said -- I would bet we could look it up -- many dozens of times has gone to the country and outlined with some precision what he's willing to do and what the United States is not willing to do with respect to Bosnia. In a large measure, none of that has changed.

What has changed is the ferocity of the fighting, the behavior of the Bosnian Serbs, and the continuing intractablity of the pursuit for a diplomatic solution. But the broad parameters of what the President has suggested to the United States that we, the American people, ought to be willing to do has not changed that much in substance. There's nothing that compels the United States at this point to rush to the theater to deploy ground troops to engage in combat, nor to engage directly in the peacekeeping activities of the U.N. mission.

We have obligations that exist as a participant and as a leader of the North Atlantic Alliance that we would be willing to make good on if necessary. But the American people, I think, are fully understanding of that because they are fully understanding of the commitments we've made to Europe as a participant in that alliance.

Q: I'm just trying to understand your answer to Ann. You're saying that in the event that the President makes a decision that something needs to be done with these 2,000 Marines or whoever there, he would consult with members of Congress on the move, but that he would not necessarily announce it and discuss it --

MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. Let me back up for a second. Deployment of the 2,000 Marines that are there is part of the ARG, the Amphibious Ready Group that are there in the Adriatic now -- we have -- we are consulting with Congress in the form of alerting staff and, in some cases, members of what the deployment is about, why it was necessary, how it fits with our overall participation in NATO activities related to the U.N. mission. If there were some need to deploy them in some particular mission, consistent with our need to protect operational security, I am confident the President would want to address the American public on the need for that type of action. But when that -- I don't want to speculate when that might occur. It wouldn't be wise to speculate on whether or not those types of units might be employed in any particular mission.

Q: On this, isn't it likely that the nature of the problems there with Bosnian Serbs keeping peacekeepers hostage and Bosnian government troops refusing to allow peacekeepers to move, doesn't that it make it more likely that there wouldn't be much notice to the American public, if not to Congress as well, that these troops would go into action fairly rapidly if there were needed?

MR. MCCURRY: You're asking me to speculate on why, how and if a particular type of unit that's already been identified at the Pentagon might go into action. I just don't think for a wide variety of reasons it's wise to do that.

Q: I'm not talking about the Marines, in general. I'm talking about why there appears to be no sense of urgency from the White House when from many other quarters there would appear to be -- we would appear to be reaching a crisis point.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, the range of options in Bosnia has never been great. If you want to suggest that the events there have now narrowed some of those decision, that's probably true. But the nature of the "crisis", or the urgency of responding is not unlike it has been for the last two and half, three years. The people -- innocent civilians have died there, the fighting has been ongoing, the humanitarian catastrophes that exist in the eastern enclaves has not changed one whit. Just because we happen to be paying attention to it now doesn't mean that the suffering there has been any less in recent months and weeks. And the search for a diplomatic solution has been persistent on the part of the United States to the deployment of our diplomats, even to Belgrade, and the work that we've done via the contact group.

Now, you can argue that none of that has worked, and we would have to acknowledge that is most likely correct. But on the other hand, there's not been a demonstrated willingness on behalf of either the Bosnian government or the Bosnian Serbs to make decisions that would put a peace settlement into place.

The Bosnian government, I would quick point out, is the one that has accepted the contact group proposal as a basis for a settlement. The problem has been the Bosnian Serbs have not been willing to accept that. There have been some emanations from Pale that they might be willing to do that, but that is -- we're at the same point we have been in all the many long months of struggling with the problem of Bosnia. There's not a willingness on the part of the one of the parties, the Bosnian Serbs, to accept what looks like the best premise for a dialogue that would bring the conflict to an end. And there's been some demonstration on behalf of the Bosnian government in recent weeks that they believe that, that being the case, they have to make their solution on the battlefield. That is the nature of the problem that is Bosnia, but it is not unlike the nature of that problem for many, many weeks.

Q: Two questions on clean water. Why now did the President do this event? Why not a couple of weeks ago when the House was debating this bill? Why didn't -- I realize he has threatened to veto before, but why not do the big public relations push then?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President believes this is a good time to affect the eventual consideration of the legislation in Congress and that by drawing the public's attention to these issues now, we can reasonably affect the outcome as the measures go further down the road of congressional consideration.

Q: Second question. As I understand it, this is a reauthorization, so if the President vetoes the bill, and the House and/or Congress can not -- does not override him and you get no bill, then you have no money, so you have no clean water enforcement anyway. Is the President willing to take that risk?

MR. MCCURRY: We would insist immediately upon new measures at that point to reauthorize the Clean Water Act so that we could proceed with the type of regulatory effort that has helped make the nation's waterways more clean, as the President indicated today.

Q: Mike, one other thing on Bosnia. When you talk about our commitment or obligation to be there in the current context, be there for our allies, have ground troops committed to UNPROFOR, is that a legal or a political commitment under NATO?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, that is a common-sense obligation that we have and some -- I would suggest a moral commitment we have a member of that treaty alliance to those whose young men are sacrificing and also endangering themselves on the ground as part of the U.N. mission. Our respect for those troop-contributing elements of UNPROFOR -- the British, the French, the Dutch, the Canadians --is extensive. They are on the ground. We are not. We know that. So at the very least it behooves us to be ready to help those U.N. peacekeepers should they face dire circumstances on the ground in Bosnia.

Now, what form that would -- you're trying to wrestle out of me what form that commitment might take. We don't know as we sit here. And I would say very clearly the President hasn't approved any specific plan.

Q: My question goes was simply as to whether there's any provision in the NATO Treaty that, for instance, the Brits or the French or the Dutch or the Canadians can point to in bringing us into the picture in terms of helping them with the current circumstance.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe there is, but I hasten to there would be absolutely no need for them to do that. We understand we have an obligation as a leader of NATO to respond to that type of request of urgency from other members of the alliance.

Q: But do you see any conflict between our commitment to be there and the President's commitment to the American people not to commit ground troops?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, we're not -- we're talking about elements -- NATO military units participating in the UNPROFOR mission come under distress because of events on the ground. They face some type of hostilities or some type of problem on the ground. That is wholly different from committing ground troops to participate in the U.N. peacekeeping activities themselves or in the, you know, now increasingly remote chance that they would be deployed as part of long-term peace monitoring mission, which is what we've talked about on other occasions. Those situations not arising, now we're talking about responding to the acute distress that might be faced by U.N. elements on the ground.

Q: How would you like to bring that mess to an end? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Well, by the way it has been suggested over and over again -- through the patient use of a diplomatic effort to bring the Contact Group proposal before the parties and to get the compliance of the parties. That has not be availing. We know that. But I don't -- haven't heard anybody who suggests any other posture that is preferable if one believes that a peaceful solution to this conflict is the best way to go.

Q: Different subject -- one question. The Mexican opposition just scored a major victory on the Sunday state election. Do you have a comment on that?

MR. MCCURRY: The results of the election, of course the ruling party was victorious by narrow margins in Yucatan. They lost another state election. But they demonstrate I think with great abundant clarity that democracy is thriving in Mexico and free and fair elections can produce outcomes that reflect the judgment and the will of the Mexican people.

Q: There are some reports that -- is planning to go to Cuba with a message from President Clinton. Have you any --

MR. MCCURRY: I believe -- we have absolutely nothing on that. That's not true as far as anyone here knows.

Q: Mike, will we get anything from the Denver paper interviews that you had at noon today?

MR. MCCURRY: It was not held yet. It will be held later, and most likely not because we give them first rights to print whatever the news is.

Q: When do you expect them to be printed -- tomorrow?

Q: to announce a new budget in those interviews?

MR. MCCURRY: No. (Laughter.)

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:14 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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