Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

May 31, 1995

U.S. Air Force Academy

Colorado Springs, Colorado

11:54 A.M. MDT

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and I'm glad to be with you today. And how could I help you? Anybody have any questions?

Q: Mr. McCurry, when the President said he would consult with Congress, did he mean he would seek approval of congress, or what did he mean?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the first thing we will do is review -- if there are any changes made in NATO contingency plans, we will review with the appropriate committees of Congress the configuration of those changes. As the President emphasized, there's been no decision by UNPROFOR to request any assistance with NATO connected to any particular mission; therefore, there's no decision by NATO to proceed with any of the various contingency plans that they have looked at. But should that arise, we would, of course, consult directly with Congress on any specific operational plans. And as a general matter of policy, the President is certainly going to consult with Congress about the need to provide the sort of support that the President suggested today we'd be prepared to offer.

Q: That doesn't mean you'd seek congressional approval, does it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we would consult with Congress consistent with the executives' views of the proper way to consult with Congress.

Q: You mean without a vote?

Q: Doesn't this represent a broader role for the United States than had been envisioned in the past, and what's to --

MR. MCCURRY: I would describe this as an extension of our existing policy, which has long been to come to the assistance of our NATO allies if we receive a specific request from those NATO allies that are elements of the U.N. mission in Bosnia. Specifically, on the question of extraction, the President suggested that in the case of reconfiguring or strengthening the U.N. mission, that offer would also be available, subject to his review as Commander in Chief of specific operational plans.

Q: He seems to spell out exactly what he thinks the course ought to be -- the U.N. ought to stay and they ought to beef up their forces. Doesn't that almost pretty much indicate that U.S. forces are going to be committed on a limited basis here sometime soon?

MR. MCCURRY: That's not entirely clear. in fact, in some measure, that depends on-the behavior of the Bosnian Serbs. But you're correct -- and as a negotiated settlement.

MR. MCCURRY: -- the presence of the U.N. mission in Bosnia is something that was -- the importance of that presence was reaffirmed by the ministers of the Contact Group earlier in the week, and the President feels that and it has long been the U.S. view that the presence of the U.N. mission in Bosnia helps ameliorate the conflict between the warring parties.

Again, we stress, and as the President stressed today the ultimate solution here will not be on the battle ground, but it will be at the negotiating table, and to that end, on behalf of the Contact Group, the U.S. diplomats are pressing for further steps on the negotiation track that could lead to a settlement.

Q: Mike, do the allies require our military expertise, or is it primarily a question of equity to make sure that the United States is also contributing to the general --

MR. MCCURRY: In connection with the contingency plans NATO draws up, NATO military planners do rely very heavily on the expertise of the United States with the leader of NATO, and provide in many cases the best available expertise for the variety of missions that NATO looks at when it is participating in this type of assistance effort for a qualified U.N. mission.

Q: But the border between the fighting and the non-fighting role is very blurry and very slim. So what kind of missions would the U.S. ground troops perform in the context of the reconfiguration --

MR. MCCURRY: It is entirely impossible, as we are here today, to predict that role because we are dealing with a hypothetical. It is rare in cases of foreign policy that you discuss a hypothetical, as many of you know. But in this case it is important to do so because this represents the provision of an important commitment that we make to our closest NATO allies who are participating on the ground in this U.N. effort.

Now, in the best of circumstances, any type of reconfiguration or redeployment that is ordered up by U.N. commanders who are running the UNPROFOR mission would proceed without any type of disruption or any interference on the part of either the Bosnian government or the Bosnian Serbs. And that would be the best of all worlds. That might, in fact, be achievable. But as we are here today, absent any specific requests, it's impossible to suggest what nature the NATO role would be in any type of U.N. reconfiguration.

Q: I'd like to follow up. What kind of guarantee would you have to prevent the sliding to a fighting role?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the normal checks that the Commander in Chief would exercise as he requires of any mission, as we would in any mission in the world, a very clear definition of purpose, an exit strategy -- all the things that routinely the Commander in Chief would ask of his military commanders before committing U.S. forces to any particular mission.

Q: Following up on John's question, is equity part of the equation, though, in addition to U.S. military expertise?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't understand the question. I don't know what you mean by equity.

Q: In other words, we're doing everything -- I mean, we're not doing anything, they're the ones with all the troops on the ground.

MR. MCCURRY: Our NATO allies participating in the NATO effort are well aware of the U.S. role and no-fly and all the airlift capacity we've provided. They know exactly what we are doing. They know how extensive our assistance has been.

Q: But they've made a lot of comments that they would like to see -- that they think that the fact that the U.S. isn't participating --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, it is true that amongst our NATO allies there has sometimes been the view expressed that we are participating on the ground with them and the U.N. And for all the reasons that the President just suggested to you, the President is not willing to make that commitment of forces to a theater in which he thinks the Europeans have the lead responsibility.

Q: Would rescuing the hostages be one of the missions for these hypothetical troops?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate about any mission of that nature.

Q: Can you tell us what your understanding is of the NATO discussions on reconfiguring and strengthening --

MR. MCCURRY: we were asked by the contact Group ministers earlier this week to review efforts that could make more effective and strengthen the U.N. presence in Bosnia, and my understanding is they are now in the process of doing that. They've looked at those types of questions before, but that's a specific set of political instructions to NATO military planners in Brussels, and they will carry out those instructions.

Q: -- President yet any recommendations for reconfiguring?

MR. MCCURRY: No. There's been no specific recommendations to the President about reconfiguration. In the course of discussions, there have been ideas put forward by the British and the French. They've talked about those publicly, so I think you are aware of some of those suggestions. But those have to fit into the contours of an overall NATO military plan.

Q: is the current American military doctrine of using overwhelming military force apply to a mission undertaken as in this extension of policy that you've described?

MR. MCCURRY: The current policy of overwhelming force would apply if the United States were entering this conflict as a combatant on behalf of one of the warring parties. That is something the Commander in Chief has made clear that we are not doing. We are participating in a narrowly-defined way in an ongoing U.N. peacekeeping operation.

Q: Does that doctrine as you understand apply only to our entrance into a war on behalf of one side or another, or does that not apply to all undertakings --

MR. MCCURRY: As the commander in chief made clear today, any use of ground forces in connection with any mission in Bosnia would be subject to his review, and his review would include criteria to ensure that the size of the force would be sufficient to ensure the success of the mission.

Q: Did the President speak with either Chirac or Major about the decision that he announced today and the last couple of days? And what exactly happened yesterday in terms of the President's timing on when he made this decision?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has talked with Prime Minister Major and President Chirac about the broad contours of the current U.N. deployment in Bosnia. He made it clear to them, as we made clear yesterday, that we would not leave our allies in the lurch.

Q: Has he talked to them since then?

MR. MCCURRY; He's talked to them Saturday. I don't believe he's talked to them since then.

And to follow up your question, Josh, the President has been reviewing with his foreign policy advisors, specifically with National Security Advisor Lake, the discussion that was hold Saturday by the foreign policy principals. And the broad contours of the direction he announced today, I think he laid in place during the course of the afternoon yesterday.

Could you try again your -- what he said about you don't ordinarily discuss hypotheticals, but in this case you do because why?

MR. MCCURRY: Because in this case, we've got a situation in which we have a commitment, and I would argue a moral commitment to our closest NATO allies who are participating in a very difficult mission in former Yugoslavia. They have troops on the ground there, and as a leader of NATO they look to us for guidance on how we would be prepared to lend assistance to their efforts on behalf of the Alliance. I think in that case, it's important to send a signal -- the President felt it was important to send a signal that we would be willing to be there for them should the assistance be required.

I would stress again, once again, that the planning is in the early stages and there's been no formal decision made to reconfigure the United Nations. You're all aware that Secretary General Boutrous-Ghali has that under discussion in New York today; that would have to be reviewed by the Security Council and then the parameters of that mission change would have to be communicated to the North Atlantic Council, and that has not happened yet. But we're preparing under the assumption that if it happens, the United States will need to respond to any requests that come its way.

Q: Is it more likely to happen than not, isn't it?

MR. MCCURRY: It's difficult to predict sometimes how those discussions within the Security Council will occur. Sometimes, there's been consensus within the North Atlantic Council that then has not translated into any change in mission as it's reviewed by the United Nations -- sometimes, individual countries taking somewhat different points of view as the discussion moves from Brussels to New York.

Q: is this signal, this offer, an attempt to increase the pressure on UNPROFOR to not evacuate?

MR. MCCURRY: We do feel that the President's determination that under the circumstances he outlined to make assistance available, we do think that that would be an incentive for those troop-contributing countries who are part of UNPROFOR to leave those forces in place. And that is an objective that the United States has as it's dealing with Bosnia. And so, in that sense, we do hope that that public statement by the President will be reassuring to those countries that are contributing forces to UNPROFOR.

Q: Can you clarify what type of assistance the U.S. would be giving in a reconfiguration?

MR. MCCURRY: I should not do that. I think they did a very good job of that at the Pentagon yesterday, so I'd go back and take a look at the discussion that Dr. Perry had and that they briefed upon at the Pentagon yesterday. They're in a better position to talk about that.

Do I need to knock down affirmative action, or did we succeed in doing that already?

Okay, bye-bye. see you all in Montana. We have a qualified endorsement.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 12:04 P.M. MDT

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

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