Clinton Says NATO Must Act in Kosovo
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 22, 1999 NATO must act now that peace talks have failed to end the Kosovo crisis, President Clinton said March 18 at a White House press conference.
As Serb forces continued an offensive against ethnic-Albanian villages, Clinton said, "the threshold has been crossed" for triggering NATO action. NATO allies are strongly united and ready to act, he said.
International diplomats halted peace talks in France earlier in the day when Serb officials refused to discuss key elements of the peace plan, the president said. More than 1,000 U.N. verifiers began pulling out of the troubled province shortly thereafter.
Clinton noted that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had massed nearly 40,000 troops and police in and around the disputed Serb province. "Make no mistake, if we and our allies do not have the will to act, there will be more massacres," Clinton said. "In dealing with aggressors in the Balkans, hesitation is a license to kill. But action and resolve can stop armies and save lives."
About 200 U.S. aircraft are among the more than 400 NATO planes poised to launch air strikes against Serb targets. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen signed orders March 18 deploying seven more U.S.-based aircraft to staging areas in Europe. Military officials alerted three EA-6B Prowlers and four KC-135 refuelers to be prepared to move within 48 hours.
NATO military action, if ordered, will place U.S. and other NATO pilots in harm's way, Clinton stressed, since the Serbs have a strong air defense system. "But we must weigh those risks against the risks of inaction," the president said. "If we don't act, the war will spread. If it spreads, we will not be able to contain it without far greater risk and cost."
NATO has warned Milosevic "to end his intransigence and repression, or face military action," the president said. Failure to take action will undermine NATO's credibility, he said, "on which stability in Europe and our own credibility depend."
"I do not want to put a single American pilot into the air," Clinton said. "I do not want anyone else to die in the Balkans. I do not want a conflict." But, the United States and its NATO allies want Europe to be "stable, humane and secure."
In one more effort to resolve the Kosovo crisis diplomatically, Clinton dispatched special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke to Belgrade to convince the Yugoslav president to end the escalating conflict. Only Milosevic "stands in the way of peace" now that the Kosovar Albanians have signed a peace accord, Clinton said.
"This is a conflict with no natural boundaries," Clinton said. "It threatens our national interests. If it continues it will push refugees across borders and draw in neighboring countries."
Violence in Kosovo has the potential to reignite historical animosities that can embrace Albania, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey, Clinton noted. "These divisions still have the potential to make the next century a truly violent one for that part of the world that straddles Europe, Asia and the Middle East."