Serbs Fold, U.S. Hopeful for Peace Agreement, but Wary
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 4, 1999 Yugoslavia has agreed to a Kosovo peace plan, but NATO's air campaign will continue until the alliance can verify Serb forces are pulling out of the province, President Clinton said here June 3.
While welcoming the move toward peace, he warned of the need for caution. Experience shows Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic does not always keep his promises, he advised.
"First we must have clarity that the Serbian leadership has fully accepted [NATO's] conditions and intends to fully implement them," Clinton said. "Until then, and until Serb forces begin a verifiable withdrawal from Kosovo, we will continue to pursue diplomacy, but we will also continue the military effort that has brought us to this point."
Earlier in the day, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari had returned from Belgrade to announce that the Serb parliament and Yugoslavia's federal government had agreed to withdraw all Serb forces from Kosovo and accept an international peace force. After meeting with European allies in Germany, Ahtisaari told CNN that Milosevic read the peace plan before it went to parliament and understands the terms of the agreement.
At the White House, Clinton noted that U.S. officials have worked closely with Ahtisaari and Russia's Viktor Chernomyrdin to achieve an agreement to allow Kosovo's ethnic Albanian refugees to go home "with security, safety and self-government."
The president later met with Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review plans for a Kosovo peace force. NATO plans to deploy about 50,000 troops with member nations providing the bulk of KFOR. Russia and other non-NATO countries are expected to contribute. Clinton set the U.S. troop commitment at 7,000 earlier in the week.
"NATO and our military have been working hard to ensure that we can sustain our campaign and deploy KFOR quickly and effectively when that is necessary," Clinton said prior to the meeting. "We have worked to ensure we can do this while maintaining our overall military posture around the world. They have my complete confidence and support as we move forward."
After the White House meeting, Cohen met with reporters at the Pentagon. He said U.S. officials are encouraged by the Serbs' decision to meet NATO's five conditions, but important details remain to be worked out. Yugoslavia must "convincingly demonstrate" the fighting is over, Serb forces are withdrawing, and a NATO-led force can enter Kosovo, the secretary said.
"We don't want this to simply be an exercise in paper promises. There must be performance," Cohen said. "At this point, not a single Serb soldier has withdrawn from Kosovo. We have to keep that in mind as we view the workings of today."
He reported that the president briefly reviewed other ground force options but made no decisions. "The president indicated NATO will succeed, whatever it takes. No option is off the table," he said, when reporters pressed for details.
The secretary credited NATO's "determination, unity and steady application of air power" for bringing the Serbs to this point. "Air power has significantly weakened the threat posed by Yugoslavia's air defense system," he said. "It has severely damaged Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. It has reduced the combat capacity of the military forces throughout Yugoslavia."
He then praised U.S. aviators for their significant role in NATO's air campaign. "The skill of our pilots, the precision of our weapons, the dedication of our people are qualities the American people can truly be proud of," he said.
The president and the defense chiefs also discussed U.S. plans to support KFOR, Cohen said. "The United States is prepared to move its initial forces within days of a peace agreement," he said. The Pentagon will make available whatever forces are needed to support the force, he added.
Along with Kosovo, Cohen said the chiefs and the president discussed a "whole panoply of issues" affecting the military. The chiefs briefed Clinton on the armed forces' overall state of readiness, including the impact of operations and personnel tempos.
"We have worldwide security interests," Cohen concluded. "Our forces are trained, they're ready and they're able to meet those responsibilities."