Press Briefing by Secretary of State Warren Christopher
The Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EDT
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Good afternoon. Upon taking office, President Clinton inherited a complex and tragic situation in the former Yugoslavia. This situation has bedeviled the international community now for almost two years. It's a problem with deep historic roots. In the post-Cold War period, the former Yugoslavia has been the scene of violence, tragedy and outrageous conduct.
The Presided has acted to deal with this conflict. We have undertaken in cooperation with our allies and friends an intensive diplomatic effort in an attempt to solve the crisis and bring some measure of peace to this area.
Our activity to date has been intense along a number of fronts. These include an active diplomatic effort that has helped to bring two of the three Bosnian parties into agreement on a peace plan; second, an effort to save thousands of lives by way of humanitarian programs, which include our airdrop program, which has now furnished more than 2 million meals; third, passage of a U.N. resolution to establish a war crimes tribunal; fourth, a U.N. resolution to enforce a no-fly zone to prevent the use of air power by the parties to the conflict; and fifth, an extremely rigorous sanctions resolution at the United Nations that went into effect last Monday at midnight.
Under this sanctions regime, Serbia is being treated as a pariah state, virtually isolated from the rest of the world. Yet the outrages have continued in the former Yugoslavia area. In the face of Serbian aggression the President has been rigorously reviewing further options for action during the course of the last week. He has been consulting with our allies and friends in the international community, members of Congress, his national security team, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has been exploring additional actions the international community can take to respond to the violence, stop the aggression and contain the conflict.
The President has just completed a meeting with his principal national security advisers. At this meeting the President decided on the direction that he believes the United States and the international community should now take in this situation. This direction involves a number of specific recommendations, including military steps.
The President is sending me to Europe to consult with our allies and friends on a course of action. This problem is at the heart of Europe's future. Our efforts will be undertaken with our partners. We're ready to play our part, but others must be as well.
Along these lines, I'll be leaving at 9:00 p.m. tonight to engage in these consultations. Over the next week I'll travel to Britain, France, Russia and Germany. I'll also be traveling to Brussels, where I'll consult with the Secretary General of NATO and the Presidency of the European Community.
In these sessions I'll be conveying the President's determination that the international community should take further action. I'll be consulting with our partners on the direction the President believes the international community should take together. We must have a unified and cohesive position.
With respect to the specific directions that I'll be discussing in Europe, I think you'll understand that prior to the consultations with our allies, I cannot discuss them with you here in this public forum.
Let me close with two important points. First, the President and the United States are pursuing additional action with our allies because we believe that the interests of the United States and the international community are at stake. There are, of course, issues of conscience and humanitarian concerns at stake in this situation. But fundamentally our actions are also based upon the strategic interests of the United States. All of us seek to limit the risk of a widening instability that could lead to a greater Balkan war.
Second, as you know, the parties to the conflict are meeting in Athens this weekend with Secretary Vance and Lord Owen. The Serbs know that they exhausted the patience of the international community. It is in their interest to take concrete actions now to reach peace and to do so without further delay.
But I must underscore that they must do more than just speak out, they must do more than simply give us a signature on a peace plan. Unfortunately, we've heard their words and seen the signatures before. It will take deeds, immediate concrete action by the Serbs, actions on the ground to convince the international community of their seriousness and good faith.
I'll be glad to try to respond --
Q: Mr. Secretary, can you tell us -- obviously, you've had preliminary consultations with allies; realistically do you think you'll be able to find a consensus based on what the President has decided today?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Yes, I'm quite hopeful that we can find a consensus. It seems to me that our European allies and friends are looking forward to these meetings. I think they expect the United States to offer leadership in this situation. I have no reason to think that my consultations there won't be well received. And I have some confidence that we can reach a situation of unity and cohesion.
Q: You said you couldn't give us details of what was decided today, but can you tell us whether anything was ruled out specifically involving the embargo?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: What has been ruled out by the President before, as you know, is for the United States to involve large numbers of ground troops, except as ground troops might be involved in the implementation of a peace plan. That doesn't break any new ground. What I have said here is simply the one thing that we will not be discussing, but beyond that we will be discussing a very wide range of options in the context, of course, of the directions that the President has given me today.
Q: Mr. Secretary, do we understand you correctly that the President has taken the decision today that will involve military -- potential military action by American forces, but the Europeans will be informed of this decision before the American people?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: The President has not taken any final decisions. He has marked out some directions that he wants to have consultations undertaken with our European allies and our friends. After those meetings, I'll be returning here to the United States and at that time be reporting to the President and he will make final decisions based upon these consultations.
Q: So the Europeans will be consulted before the American people?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: The American people are being consulted as we move along in the situation. It's being widely discussed all over the Untied States, but you can understand that until we've reached a unified and cohesive position with our European allies that there is nothing that we can properly announce at the present time.
Q: Have you changed the goal line here for the Serbs -- the goalpost, because it seems that you're saying that you need more than the signature on a peace plan, that you need concrete actions on the ground? What specifically are those actions that you want?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: The Serbs know well the actions that they must take to satisfy us in this situation and satisfy the international community. They must honor the cease-fire that was called for in the London accords. They must stop bombing the cities in Bosnia. They must permit humanitarian aid to go forward. There's no mystery and no secret about that. The Serbs know what they must do. What we're tired of is simply their words and actions and manipulation.
Q: Mr. Secretary, do the allies have veto power over the President's plans? What if they say no? Will the President change his plans? And, number two, if they do go along with it, when would the action actually begin?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: By no means do the allies have veto power, but this is a multilateral situation. This problem has deep European roots. The European countries are already deeply involved. They have ground forces in Bosnia. It's a situation where we want to take unified action with Europe, and we'll be discussing it in that context.
The second part of your question had to do with timing, did it?
Q: Yes, sir.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I don't want to establish any deadline, but we understand the violence is going ahead in Bosnia. We want to move as briskly as we can. On the other hand, I think it's essential we move with deliberation here. These are very important decisions. And, as you all know, they are very difficult decisions.
Q: Mr. Secretary, did you open up a new possibility of using U.S. troops on the ground to pinpoint the Serbian positions, because you used the phrase "ruling out large numbers of ground troops." What about small numbers?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I don't want to change what the President has said on that subject. We do not contemplate the use of ground forces except in connection with the implementation of a peace plan that was agreed to in good faith -- a viable peace plan agreed to in good faith.
Q: What forces would be used to pinpoint the Serbian positions?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I'm not going to get into detailed military options. I simply stand on my prior statement with respect to ground forces.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Lord Owen has said it would be unwise to use military force against the Serbs at this juncture, and he said that they are now closer to a peace agreement than they have been in the last eight months. Do you share that assessment?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: We're proceeding on our own track here. I think that the President has been very deliberate over the last 10 days in moving toward a decision, which he's taken today, to send me to Europe and on the directions he wants to have the discussions take in Europe. We're not going to be diverted from that track. Obviously, we're interested in what's going on in Athens, but I think the United States and its allies need to concert their position in this important situation.
And let me say this also: I have noticed over the last several months that I have been in office that the Serbs tend to respond when they think that something might be done by the United States and their allies of a serious character. I'm not -- I don't think it's an entirely -- a coincidence that they're back at the bargaining table now as we approach these decisions. So we're going to stay on track. We're going to continue our course.
Q: Mr. Secretary, do you see your role in Europe as selling this strategy to the European allies, or soliciting their input to amend this strategy?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I certainly am going to try to persuade the allies that the directions the President has laid down are ones that they ought to embrace. That's part of my task as being Secretary of State and engaging in these consultations.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you have on several occasions pointed out this is a deep and historical conflict that's going on. And today you point out that it's also in the strategic interest of the United States to get involved here. Most people don't understand why we are getting involved. Can you explain more what you mean by strategic interest?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, it has two main dimensions. Of course, it has the deep humanitarian dimension. The ethnic cleansing that has gone on there has evoked concern all over the world. But coming to your specific question, there is an important strategic interest here of trying to contain this conflict. The United States does not want this conflict to spread in a way that would involve our allies, Greece and Turkey. It does not want it to spread to Kosovo or Macedonia. So it's an effort to contain the conflict, to keep it where it is, to stop the aggression that is such of strategic interest not only of the United States but our allies as well.
Q: Mr. Secretary, does the decision that the President has reached today represent an ultimatum to the Serbs? And if so, when does it expire? By when must we see these deeds?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I think the Serbs know what they have to do. And they know that they need to do it promptly, because our course of decision is well set here. We're going to be careful and deliberate. We're going to go through these consultations. I'll come back and report to the President, and he'll be reporting to the American people on this subject; but the clock is ticking.
Thank you very much.
END1:47 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Secretary of State Warren Christopher Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269351