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Secretary Cohen's Press Conference at NATO Headquarters, April 7, 1999

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 09, 1999

Subject: Secretary Cohen's Press Conference at NATO Headquarters

Secretary Cohen: Ladies and Gentlemen.

I had a very good series of meetings with Secretary General Solana, with General Wes Clark, and the North Atlantic Council. Based on these meetings I can report that the Alliance is indeed unified in its determination to continue its air campaign over Kosovo.

Our military goal of degrading the Yugoslav army and special police is a response to the unspeakable brutality that has been inflicted on the Kosovar Albanians by President Milosevic and his hooded thugs. The appalling accounts of mass killing in Kosovo and the pictures of refugees fleeing Serb oppression for their lives makes it clear that this is a fight for justice over genocide; for humanity over inhumanity; for democracy over despotism; for freedom from fear; and for a future of hope instead of a past of hatred. These are the values of NATO's members, and they are the values worth fighting for no matter how long this campaign must continue.

We have always known that the campaign will be difficult and time consuming, and I emerged from my meetings this morning and this afternoon convinced that NATO indeed intends to stay the course. From my discussions with General Clark, it is clear that NATO forces are beginning to inflict increasing damage on Yugoslav forces that are responsible for the deaths and devastation in Kosovo. This is no time to pause.

After my meetings with Secretary Solana and the NAC, I can report that NATO's goals are clear and that our determination is undiminished. We will reject any settlement that freezes the result of Milosevic's genocide and rewards him for his brutality. Milosevic must stop the killing. He must withdraw his forces. He must agree to democratic self-government in Kosovo and accept an international peace keeping force under NATO's leadership. When these conditions are met, the refugees will be able to return to their homes and rebuild their lives. Thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary in recent days there have been reports that the Serbs have gone to a strategy of hunkering down, hiding their tanks and military vehicles near churches, in populated areas or civilian structures. What is the politico-military logic of this for the Serbs and how can NATO forces effectively respond to this tactic?

A: As you know, we are now moving into a much more aggressive air campaign and the A-10 attack aircraft are going to target the tanks. We will be sending Apache helicopters into the region which are very capable tank killers. We will start to take the battle, as such, to the individual units on the ground through this air campaign, which will be intensified in the coming days and weeks.

Q: Mr. Secretary, we have been receiving reports from Albania in particular, Macedonia secondarily, that from the Serbian side the border is being closed and that indeed Kosovar refugees are being pushed back now toward their villages or back from the borders. This fits with the scenario that I had heard discussed among European officials here some time ago to the effect that "well, what will we do if six hundred thousand people are expelled from Kosovo, borders are closed and Milosevic says he wants to negotiate?" I was wondering what you know about these reports and what you think should be done if this is the case?

A: I have not seen the reports. I think that our current strategy must be continued.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what is your understanding of why these refugees are being pulled back into Kosovo?

A: As I indicated I have not seen those reports so I can't comment on it.

Q: Sir, there was a request for more planes. Are there any plans now, or any thinking of sending ground troops on the ground in Kosovo?

A: There are no plans to send ground troops in, into a non-permissive environment. There are additional aircraft that have been requested by General Clark that have been agreed to, the Apaches being part of that package as such, and whatever General Clark feels he needs in order to carry out this campaign successfully he will receive.

Q: Mr. Secretary, in sending the Apaches to Albania, particularly since they would be launching attacks into Kosovo, is there not a concern that you are opening a new front in the war and thus defeating one of your prime purposes which was to try to avoid an expansion that might destabilize some of the neighboring states?

A: We are taking this action in conjunction with Albanian consent and we believe that launching the aircraft, the Apaches, out of Albania will be successful in helping to defeat Milosevic's ground forces.

Q: As you know, everybody in NATO on the military side says, "To win a war, you must go into the field." Unless Milosevic steps back, and we don't have any news that he's going to do so, can we go ahead with it, and if we do, will there be U.S. troops as well or will you just count on the European side? Another question. Yesterday, we had the announcement of the "no" of the Alliance in Washington before Brussels. Does this mean there is a difference between "no" and "clearly insufficient"? Thank you.

A: I'm sorry. I didn't understand the second question.

Q: America said "no" before the NATO ambassadors met. Does this mean...?

A: "No" to what?

Q: No to President Milosevic. Does this mean that "no" is different from "clearly insufficient"?

A: I think "clearly insufficient" and "no" can be interpreted as being precisely the same. In the first part of your question, the United States and the NATO Allies believe that the air campaign should continue.

Q: Some of the wire reports read that the interim president of Cyprus, Mr. Sipriano, says he has hopes that three American servicemen who were captured in Macedonia will be released in the next 24 hours. Can I ask you what you know about this, if you know anything authoritative?

A: Only what I've heard reported through the media.

Q: You said the air campaign should continue. What in fact is the exact point of the air campaign? We have been told that they are now after the elimination of the integrated air defenses able to attack ground forces, and the Apache helicopters obviously are there for that purpose. But in fact by reducing the Serb forces which are only fighting occasionally irregular troops of the KLA, what is the point of reducing the Serb forces? And what will happen at the end of that?

A: I take it you assume that the Serb forces are in some kind of parody with the KLA forces. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Serb forces have engaged in one of the most brutal, massive assaults on humanity that we have seen since the end of World War II. And what we have said to Mr. Milosevic is either he takes the path of peace or he's going to pay the penalty for waging this kind of ethnic cleansing. And so the purpose of our campaign is to degrade and diminish his military capability.

We are going to continue to target his surface-to-air missile systems, his integrated air defenses. We are going to continue to target his ammunition depots. We are going to continue to target those facilities that can manufacture weapons and also those that continue to keep him in power as a result of his military support. So we will be targeting individual units. We'll target the tanks, artillery and heavy armor as well as taking it to those forces on the ground who have inflicted this kind of brutality.

Q: There seems to be picking up of activity in the diplomatic sphere. Vice President Gore reaching out to the Russians and others. How does this fit in with the military strategy? Is it an indication that you think that you're making gains enough so you can start talking of a diplomatic solution? Is it an indication that you think perhaps that the Serbs are making gains, so a diplomatic solution needs to be reached? And, is Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic somebody that you think the West can do business with?

A: Well I think that the ability to do business with Slobodan Milosevic is seriously in question by many countries, in terms of his reliability, his trail of broken promises. But nonetheless, the United States has never given up its efforts at diplomacy. We arranged to send Richard Holbrooke as the last effort to avoid any kind of a military confrontation. That was rejected. We have continued to keep up lines of communications with Russian counterparts.

Secretary Albright has been in almost daily contact with her counterpart. I know the Vice President has been in touch with his counterpart in Russia. We believe it's important for NATO, the United States separately to be sure, but NATO to keep in touch and to build upon a relationship that was started with the NATO-Russian Charter, to continue that relationship. So to the extent that we have diplomatic channels open, this is not a change in policy, it's a continuation of a policy.

Q: With no compromise?

A: We have set out what the terms of a settlement are, and we intend to pursue those positions.

Q: There are growing signs that President Milosevic is not very pleased with the present position of the Montenegrian government. What kind of measures can be taken to help the government of Montenegro to keep it independent position right now in the conflict?

A: Well, we have indicated to Mr. Milosevic that he should not try to bring about a coup in Montenegro. Should he, in fact, move either militarily or covertly against the government in Montenegro he will be met with a very substantial response on the part of NATO. So we have sent that message in a variety of ways, but we're sure that Mr. Milosevic understands it would cause a fairly substantial, a very substantial response on the part of NATO.

Thank you very much.

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