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DoD News Briefing: General Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

Presenters: General Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
September 04, 1997 12:10 PM EDT

General Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

Mr. Bacon: General Wesley Clark has been the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe since June -- July?

Gen. Clark: 11 July.

Mr. Bacon: And he's here to talk on the record today and take your questions. Unfortunately, he has to go at 12:30, so we have got about a little more than 15 minutes. Gen. Clark.

Gen. Clark: Well, thank you very much, Ken. It's a real pleasure to see you all here today. As Ken said, I took command as Supreme Allied Commander Europe on the 11th of July, so it's been about two months. This my first trip back to Washington, and I am here on my initial call. As Supreme Allied Commander, I make a series of these calls from one country to another.

I am meeting with the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Under Secretary of State, and various other officials in the State Department, the Pentagon, and the White House.

During these consultations, I have reviewed a number of positions and perspectives concerning NATO and Bosnia. We have talked about municipal elections and the preparations that are underway with respect to municipal elections. This will be a very important mission for the stabilization force in Bosnia.

It is an important milestone for the implementation of the Dayton agreement and I am very proud of the preparations that SFOR has made for its support of these elections.

I also conveyed my appreciation for the tremendous work done by U.S. forces in Bosnia, for their high morale, superb leadership, great discipline and competence, and I think that all America should be very proud of these fine representatives of this country who are serving in uniform there. I will be very happy to take your questions. Yes.

Q: Gen. Clark, are you pleased with the result so far of the crackdown on paramilitary police in Bosnia? And by the way, have Karadzic's police protectors been disarmed, or at least have their heavy weapons been taken? Are you satisfied with the crackdown on the paramilitary police against these inflammatory broadcasts and do you plan to take any further major steps on that?

A: Well, first of all, let me say that my predecessor, Gen. Joulwan, signed the order to SFOR directing that they take action to bring the ministerial specialist police under the control of Annex 1A of the Dayton Agreement.

In my position I have been working very closely with the commander of SFOR and his troops to see that this order is effectively implemented. We are in the process of implementation at this time, and thus far we have seen some indications of some -- of compliance. And we have seen some indications of noncompliance, and so I will tell you this is a work in progress.

Q: How about Karadzic -- the people protecting him? Have you moved to remove their heavy weapons, as you --

A: Well, there are a variety of reports about who is protecting Karadzic so we are looking very carefully at this matter. But I can tell you that if there are specialist police who are protecting him, that they won't legally be able to protect him as special police under the agreement that they have entered into. That is an illegal mission and so they will be denied any legal authority. If they carry weapons, they will be paramilitaries and subject to the enforcement as provided by the Dayton agreement.

Q: General, are the NATO-led peace-keeping forces getting involved essentially in local politics by taking a series of moves that support Biljana Plavsic over the hard-liners who are backing Radovan Karadzic?

A: I think you're going to find that NATO forces are fulfilling their responsibilities under the Dayton agreement; that is, we're there to create a secure environment. And I think we have been effective in taking those steps.

So we were asked to pull the pro-Plavsic forces out of the Banja Luka police stations. As a matter of fact, we did this at the request of President Krajisnik, who called Gen. Shinseki on that morning and said, please help me; Mrs. Plavsic's forces have taken over the police station.

And so NATO forces pulled the Plavsic forces out. The International Police Task Force went in there and discovered 12 tons of illegal weaponry that had apparently been moved into the area, numbers of tapes and other things. We are supporting creating a secure environment.

Whenever we have received reports of something that threatens that environment, we have taken action. And that's the process that's underway. Yes, sir.

Q: Yes, General, can you comment on reports that Mr. Krajisnik is interceding for Mr. Karadzic, as far as trying to make some kind of a deal with (inaudible), to, I guess, for exile? Or something besides going to trial. Is that actually happening? And what more can you tell us about plans to capture Mr. Karadzic?

A: Well, I am not going to speculate on any future plans. I'm going to tell you that SFOR is going to comply strictly with its mandate and the guidance given it by the North Atlantic Council. That guidance is clear, and we are going to stay within that guidance.

As far as what Mr. Karadzic might or might not be thinking or planning, I have no idea. But I will tell you this: it is the responsibility of the signatories of the Dayton agreement to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia. He should be turned in. He should report to The Hague and, in fact, I call on him voluntarily to submit himself to justice.

Q: But General -- but General, this report from the Associated Press said that an intermediary was offering to negotiate demands that Karadzic be tried. Is that something that's negotiable?

A: That's something that's outside of NATO's purview and you will have to ask those responsible about that question.

Q: Could you talk about what it would take to disarm Karadzic's police or the special forces that are around him? And are we willing to take that risk? It seems like it would be an incredibly dangerous mission to try and disarm people over there.

A: Well, I'm going to tell you first that I'm not going to speculate on any future operations or disclose any particular methods of operation or capabilities that SFOR might have in the theater.

I'm going to tell you, secondly, that if there are people out there who are doing things that are illegal and presently threats to NATO's mission of creating a secure environment, then those people had best comply with the agreements and the guidance that they have been given by SFOR, or they will suffer the consequences.

Q: You talked about the upcoming elections. Could you talk a little bit more specifically about some of the steps you're taking in addition to just increasing the number of troops and patrols?

A: Well, first let me say that through a planned program of overlapping the rotation of units, there has been somewhat of an increase of the troop strength of the stabilization force during the election periods.

This was not accidental, it was planned because we recognize that there will be heavy demands on SFOR to create conditions of general security, to help plan travel, to help the transport of sensitive materials to assist the election commission that's under the leadership of the OSCE.

And so we are -- involved in detail planning on the locations the polling places, predictions of where there might be difficulties, and planning out all manner of assistance and so forth. It's a full scale military effort to help bring the elections process to a successful completion of the municipal elections. Yes.

Q: Now that non-lethal weapons are being sent to Bosnia and you have had SFOR troops guarding TV towers, et cetera, does this signal that SFOR is taking on more of a police function?

A: No, we're not going to take on a police function. We have made that very clear from the outset. SFOR is there to create a secure environment. We will not be intimidated. We will not be deterred.

Now, I will tell you that the instances that you have seen recently give me great cause for concern because they betray a pattern on the part of some people to attempt to dissuade SFOR from accomplishing its mission. We will not be deterred by mob violence or threats of mob violence. We will use all means necessary, including lethal means to protect our forces and to continue our mission. Yes.

Q: The near civil war in Srpska -- does this, to your mind, represent progress toward fulfilling Dayton? Is it a setback? I mean, how do you assess what's been going on?

A: Well, you're asking me a policy question. But I will tell you this, that SFOR has always supported those who support the implementation of Dayton and we are opposed to those who are impeding Dayton. And so we are working very carefully to make sure that the secure environment that's necessary for the municipal elections for the other aspects of civil implementation is maintained. And we're working that in a very even-handed fashion in all entities, against all factions.

Q: Well, does this suggest that the noose is tightening around Karadzic, for instance, that he is closer to The Hague or at least closer to being out of Srpska and Bosnia?

A: Well, I can't predict what Mr. Karadzic is going to do, but I can tell you that he is there in violation of the Dayton agreement. He should have been turned in long ago by the signatories of that agreement to face international justice at The Hague. And it is in the interests of all the people in Bosnia and all the people in Srpska that these men who are indicted war criminal suspects step forward and take their case to the court of justice at The Hague and let these matters be handled by proper legal proceedings.

Q: General Clark, the mission, of course, is scheduled to end next June. You have sort of a long view on Bosnia, given your pre-Dayton talks there and everything. Do you think that the current path completes the mission by June?

A: Well, first of all, you're asking me a policy question that's really not within my purview at this time. What I'm doing is I'm working this on a day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month basis to carry out the NAC mandate.

The NAC mandate right now says that the mission will end in June of '98 and I'm doing everything I can to fulfill the guidance I've been given to assure that the conditions are there to promote civil implementation of the various provisions of Dayton. And that's what we have to be focused on right now. I think we have to focus more near term.

Q: Have you begun any contingency planning for the possibility that the decision will be made to keep U.S. troops past June '98?

A: Well, I'm not going to speculate on contingency planning. Generals cannot speculate on contingency planning.

Q: We've been told that the overlapping rotation of the U.S. contingent will boost the U.S. force to 10.5 or 11. Can you tell us what these overlaps for the SFOR as a whole, what's the temporary enhancement going to be for the elections?

And also, Major General Grange announced, or his spokesman announced in Tuzla on the 15th of last month, that the training activities of the entity forces would be curtailed in the period leading up to the elections, he said, with a straight face, so that the military members could vote. Are there other things besides that that are being done in terms of restrictions being levied on the local military forces right up to the election?

A: Well, first of all, let me say that there is an increase in SFOR strength of several thousand during this period so that we have a better capacity to deal with the requirements of the election.

Secondly, at various times and various places in Bosnia, there have been curtailments on training activities and we'll be watching very closely and working with the forces of all the entities to ensure there is no interference in the election process and to encourage their full participation in the democratic process.

Q: You mentioned you were concerned about the events of the last week or so. Can you talk a little more about what trends you might be seeing there? What exactly concerns you?

A: Well, I'm seeing a trend toward disorder, and organized disorder, on the part of some people in Srpska. And so I can only warn those people that SFOR is not going to be intimidated by mob violence or the threat of mob violence or those kinds of tactics from continuing its mission. Its mission has been fully within the NAC guidance. It's been fully in keeping with its intent to create a secure environment and facilitate civil implementation, and it will continue to do that mission.

Q: Could you give us specific figures on the troop levels? You mentioned there would be an increase, but could you quantify that?

A: I'll provide those to you, if I could.

Q: Can U.S. troops reasonably expect to pull out of Bosnia in June of 1998 with Karadzic still at large?

A: Well, I'm not going to speculate on what the conditions will be, but I'll tell you what NATO Secretary General Solana has said. He says he expects all the war criminals to be in The Hague for trial -- war criminal suspects to be in The Hague for trial, by June of 1998. And we call on those signatories of the Dayton agreement to comply with their word as given at Dayton.

Q: Would you rule out some kind of military mission to capture Karadzic if there's no other way to bring him to justice?

A: I'm not going to speculate on any possible military missions or activities.

Q: General, is there a role for Russia in all this to ensure that there is peace for the upcoming elections?

A: We've been working very closely with Russia. As you know, I have a Russian deputy and a Russian brigade is present located in the sector of multinational division north. It takes tactical direction from Major General Dave Grange, the U.S. commander of the 1st Infantry Division, which is the multinational division north headquarters right now. We've had very good cooperation and partnership with the Russian unit there and they've played a constructive role.

Q: Do you expect more confrontation with IFOR? And who is the inspiration for this? Who's behind this?

A: Well, I'm not going to speculate publicly on who has orchestrated this, but I think it's very obvious. Anybody can see what the contending sides are and what the issues at stake are in this issue. But I will tell you this: that those who might be planning a further confrontation had best rethink their plans because these will not be effective and, instead, they are going to rebound to hurt those who have organized them.

Q: Is the answer, yes, more confrontation?

A: I'm not going to make a prediction on whether there are going to be more confrontations or not. That depends on those who might be trying to impede SFOR.

Q: Have the Bosnian Serbs been living up to the agreement that they signed yesterday about the return of the television transmitter?

A: It's too early to pass judgment on whether they've been living up to it or not. I haven't been there. And right now, as far as I know, last night, we did not ask for -- we, the international community, did not ask for the air time that was promised by the agreement. I'll have more to say about their compliance in future periods of time.

Q: General, it sounds from the different ways that you have expressed yourself, if there's going to be more confrontation they'd better rethink it; the U.S. and its allies will use whatever forces necessary in Bosnia. It sounds like you are girding yourself for a confrontation. It sounds like all of these forces are on the brink of getting more involved, more involved in a fighting situation.

A: Well, I'll just tell you that it's very clear why NATO was called on to go into Bosnia. NATO was called on because NATO has credibility, NATO has military capability and NATO is effective at the missions that it undertakes. And we're going to be effective in accomplishing the missions that we've been assigned in Bosnia as well. And so that's why I want to make it very clear that NATO forces are not going to be deterred or intimidated.

Whether there's confrontation or not is entirely up to those who might seek to produce it. We're staying strictly within our mandate. We're moving forward to assist civil implementation. We're working to avoid conditions which might go against NATO's requirements of creating a secure environment. And that's the story.

Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure to be with you here. Thank you.

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