THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release April 28, 1999 1:20 P.M. EDT
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
The Rose Garden
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I just had a good meeting with a large bipartisan delegation from both Houses of Congress on Kosovo. It was our fourth meeting since the air strikes began. We spoke about the NATO Summit, its unity and determination to achieve our objectives in Kosovo; about the progress of our military campaign and the intensification of economic sanctions; about the humanitarian challenge that we face and the work that we and our allies are doing to meet it.
Just on Monday, some 3,500 Kosovar refugees, in trains and buses, arrived in Montenegro. Yesterday about 5,000 entered Macedonia; almost 3,000 arrived in Albania, exhausted, hungry, shaken, all by the violence and abuse they experienced on the way. At one point, 1.8 million ethnic Albanians lived in Kosovo. Nearly 1.5 million have been displaced since the start of the crisis.
Our humanitarian coordinator, Brian Atwood, who just returned from the region, has described an elderly Albanian woman he met in a camp outside Tirana. She saw all the male members of her family and most of the men in her village rounded up by Serbian authorities, tied up, doused with gasoline, and set on fire in front of their families.
It's the kind of story that would be too horrible to believe if it were not so consistent with what so many refugees have been saying. What we need to remember is that this is the result of a meticulously planned campaign, not an isolated incident of out-of-control rage. A campaign organized by the government of Belgrade for a specific political purpose -- to maintain its grip over Kosovo by ridding the land of its people.
This policy must be defeated, and it will be defeated. That was the clear message of the NATO Summit. Nineteen democratically-elected NATO leaders came together to demonstrate their unity and determination to prevail. We agreed to intensify the air campaign, and that is what NATO is doing -- both against military targets in Kosovo and against the infrastructure of political and military power in Belgrade.
Our partners in Southeastern Europe, the frontline states, who are risking so much and who have borne such a heavy burden, have followed through on their pledges of support. We are also providing more funds to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and to NGOs to deliver food and supplies to the refugees. Our Defense Department has found a site for the facility it will build in Albania for up to 20,000 refugees. We hope it will begin taking in refugees in about two weeks.
I spoke to members of Congress about all these efforts today. I told them that now is the time to pass the supplemental funding for Kosovo that I requested nine days ago. We need it to maintain our military readiness. Just as important, we need to sustain humanitarian relief and support for the frontline nations that have absorbed the brunt of this emergency.
Let me stress that my request fully funds our military and humanitarian needs in Kosovo. Congress should resist the temptation to add unrelated expenditures, even important ones, which could delay the process, because that would undermine the very goals that this funding is intended to meet. We must get a Kosovo funding measure passed and to my desk now.
We also talked about other legislative initiatives pending on Kosovo in the Congress. I stressed that the 19 NATO allies are speaking with a single voice. America must continue to speak with a single voice as well. I told them we would welcome the support of the Congress so that Mr. Milosevic will have no doubt that we had the determination and the patience to persevere until we prevail.
Each day, our military campaign takes a toll on Serbia's machinery of repression. The Serbian leadership has failed to divide us and will not outlast us. The combined military might and moral determination of Europe and North America will endure.
We know what the final outcome will be. The Serbian forces will leave Kosovo, an international security force will deploy to protect all the people there -- Serbs as well as Albanians. And the refugees will return with security and self-government.
Q Did you say you promised Congress you would ask permission --
Q -- how can you say the strategy is working when 40,000 troops remain in Kosovo?
Q Mr. President, do you see any signs that Milosevic is losing his grip, sir? Any signs at all?
THE PRESIDENT: We have some indications that there are differences of opinion, obviously, developing in Belgrade, and we saw some of it public this week. There are some things that we know that I think I should not comment on. But the thing I want to tell the American people is, we know objectively what damage has been done. We know now we're going to be in a position to fly around the clock at lower altitudes from all directions in better weather.
Historically, the weather is better in May than in April, better in June than in May, better in July than in June. And I feel very strongly that we should stay with and be very strong in determination to pursue our strategy, as well as the very important decisions we made at the NATO conference to intensify the economic pressure. And I believe that if we do these things, we will be successful.
I am determined to do it. I believe our allies are all determined to do it. I think when they left here they were more determined than when they came.
As to the question the gentleman asked about the troops, keep in mind, the fact that they have mobilized more troops is an indication of the trouble they're having. If they had no problems, they wouldn't need the troops. The initial state of play on the ground was they had 40,000 troops in and around Kosovo and nearly 300 tanks. So we always knew that if they were willing to take the bombing in the beginning, they could do what they have done. Now, we have to stay with it to reverse that, and we can and we will, if we stay with it. I'm determined to do that.
Q -- promise Congress you would get their approval before sending ground troops?
Q Should Jesse Jackson go to Belgrade?