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Washington Hushed as NATO Summit Opens

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 23, 1999 – Without the rush of morning traffic, the heart of Washington was unusually quiet early Friday, April 23, opening day of NATO's 50th anniversary summit. Concentric rings of police, Secret Service agents, traffic flares and barricades barred all but authorized vehicles from the summit site near 14th Street and Constitution Avenue.

Scores of police and summit authorities replaced the city's commuters and pedestrians. President Clinton had granted federal employees with downtown offices a holiday. Security officials closed Federal Triangle Metro station, located beneath the summit site.

Within the security perimeter, political leaders and military officials from more than 40 nations assembled for morning events. The day had dawned bright and early for jet-lagged foreign delegates, countless military and civilian support staff and other visitors gathering for the historic summit.

International staffers streamed in and out of offices in the refurbished Old Customs Building. Hundreds of journalists wandered the maze of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, trying to locate briefing sites and media pool stations.

Royal blue bunting hung from the front of the Mellon Auditorium, where NATO leaders assembled for a first-ever alliance meeting with 19 members. In March, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland became the first new members to join the nation since Spain joined in 1982.

President Clinton welcomed the foreign allies at an early morning meeting focused on Kosovo. "We need to honor NATO's past, to chart its future, to reaffirm our mission in Kosovo where NATO is defending our values and our vision of a Europe free, undivided and at peace," Clinton told his international counterparts.

The president emphasized that the alliance is united and committed to:

  • Sustain Operation Allied Force for as long as it takes.
  • Stand firm in its conditions for ending the operation.
  • Pursue diplomatic initiatives to meet those conditions.
  • Increase political and economic pressure against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade.
  • Stand by the front-line nations threatened by Belgrade's actions.

Clinton said NATO, along with partner nations, Ukraine and Russia, aims to help restore stability, democracy and prosperity in southeastern Europe "so that when Mr. Milosevic's vision for the future is defeated, a better one can rise in its place."

"Mr. Milosevic's forces burn and loot homes and murder innocent people," he said. "Our forces deliver food and shelter and hope to the displaced. Mr. Milosevic fans the flames of anger between nations and peoples. We are an alliance of 19 nations, uniting 780 million people of many ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds."

NATO has repeatedly tried to resolve the crisis peacefully, Clinton said. But when forced to fight, he said, "we fight to prevail."

Opening the working session on the crisis, NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana said the alliance has assured peace, stability and freedom in Europe for half a century. "As we celebrate past achievement, we are determined to see these principles carried into the next century," he said.

Kosovo represents a fundamental challenge to the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, Solana said. That is why the alliance had to act, he said, and why the alliance "must and will prevail."

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