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Remarks in New York City on the Situation in Kosovo

October 12, 1998

Good evening. In recent weeks, faced with a deepening and dangerous crisis in Kosovo, the United States has worked to stop the violence and repression and put the people of Kosovo on the path to peace.

Last month the United Nations Security Council, through Resolution 1199, demanded that President Milosevic implement a cease-fire, withdraw the forces he has recently sent to Kosovo and garrison the rest, allow refugees to return to their villages, give immediate access to humanitarian relief agencies, and agree to a timetable for autonomy negotiations with the Kosovar Albanians.

President Milosevic has not yet complied with the international community's demands. Given his intransigence, the 16 members of NATO have just voted to give our military commanders the authority to carry out airstrikes against Serbia. This is only the second time in NATO's history that it has authorized the use of force— and the first time in the case of a country brutally repressing its own people.

The international community is now prepared to act. But as I have said from the beginning, we would prefer to resolve this crisis peacefully, rather than through military action. That is why I sent Ambassador Richard Holbrooke on a mission to make it clear to President Milosevic what the world expects him to do to avert the NATO airstrikes.

Ambassador Holbrooke has reported to me, and in the past few hours to NATO, that, faced with a solid international front, President Milosevic has made a series of commitments. If fully implemented—and that is a critical and very big "if"—these commitments could achieve the international community's objectives as stated in the United Nations resolution.

In light of President Milosevic's pledges and the independent verification system that will be established, NATO has agreed to delay action for 96 hours.

President Milosevic has agreed, first, to fully comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1199. Second, he has accepted an intrusive international inspection to verify compliance. Third, he has agreed to a timetable for completing interim autonomy arrangements with the Kosovar Albanians.

If these commitments are met, and the international community will be able to see for itself whether they are met, they could provide the basis for peace and progress.

All along our objectives have been clear: to end the violence in Kosovo which threatens to spill over into neighboring countries and to spark instability in the heart of Europe; to reverse a humanitarian catastrophe in the making as tens of thousands of homeless refugees risk freezing or starving to death in the winter; and to seek a negotiated peace.

But let me be very clear: Commitments are not compliance. Balkan graveyards are filled with President Milosevic's broken promises. In the days ahead, we will focus not only on what President Milosevic says but on what we see that he does, through a robust on-the-ground and in-the-air verification system.

I hope that the commitments President Milosevic has made can create a peaceful way forward. That has been our preference all along. But together with our NATO partners, we will determine whether President Milosevic follows words with deeds. And we will remain ready to take military action if Mr. Milosevic fails to make good on his commitments this time.

As we approach the next century, we must never forget one of the most indelible lessons of this one we're about to leave, that America has a direct stake in keeping the peace in Europe before isolated acts of violence turn into large-scale wars. Today determined diplomacy backed by force is creating the path to peace.

I want to thank Mr. Holbrooke; I want to thank Secretary General Solana and our NATO Allies for all the contributions they have made. Now we must and we will do what is necessary to see that that path to peace is followed.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:50 p.m. at the New York Hilton and Towers. In his remarks, he referred to President Slobodan Milosevic of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro); Special Envoy Richard C. Holbrooke, the President's nominee to be Ambassador to the U.N.; and NATO Secretary General Javier Solana.

William J. Clinton, Remarks in New York City on the Situation in Kosovo Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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