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Remarks on the Situation in Kosovo

March 22, 1999

I want to give you a brief update about the situation in Kosovo and make a few comments.

It is clear that Serb forces are now engaged in further attacks on Kosovar civilians. Already more than 40,000 Serb security forces are poised in and around Kosovo, with additional units on the way. These actions are in clear violation of commitments Serbia made last October when we obtained the cease-fire agreement.

As part of our determined efforts to seek a peaceful solution, I asked Ambassador Holbrooke to see President Milosevic and make clear the choice he faces. That meeting is either going on now or should start in the next few minutes. If President Milosevic continues to choose aggression over peace, NATO's military plans must continue to move forward.

I will be in close consultation with our NATO Allies and with Congress. Over the weekend, I met with my national security team to discuss the military options. I also spoke with other NATO leaders by telephone. There is strong unity among the NATO Allies. We all agree that we cannot allow President Milosevic to continue the aggression with impunity. I have also sent a letter to President Yeltsin about the urgency of the situation.

Our objective in Kosovo remains clear: to stop the killing and achieve a durable peace that restores Kosovars to self-government, the self-government that President Milosevic stripped away from them a decade ago. We and our NATO Allies, and Russia, all agree that this is the right goal. The Kosovar Albanians have accepted this course. Only President Milosevic and Serbia stand in the way of peace. Serbia's mounting aggression must be stopped.

Since the adjournment of the peace talks in Paris less than a week ago, an estimated 30,000 more Kosovars have fled their homes. The number now exceeds more than a quarter of a million people, one out of every eight people in Kosovo. Many of them now are in neighboring Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro, all of which could be quickly drawn into this conflict. So could other nations in the region, including Bosnia where allied determination ended a terrible war, and our allies Greece and Turkey.

Seeking to end this tragedy in Kosovo and finding a peaceful solution is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do, very much in our national interests, if we are to leave a stable, peaceful, and democratic Europe to our children. We have learned a lot of lessons in the last 50 years. One of them surely is that we have a stake in European freedom and security and stability. I hope that can be achieved by peaceful means. If not, we have to be prepared to act.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:50 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House, upon his return from Camp David, MD. In his remarks, he referred to U.S. Special Envoy Richard C. Holbrooke; President Slobodan Milosevic of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro); and President Boris Yeltsin of Russia.

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

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