Related topics

Albright: Last Chance on Kosovo

March 22, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Secretary of State Madeleine Albright today called the mission of a U.S. envoy to Belgrade the last chance Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has to choose between a settlement in Kosovo and a NATO bombardment of Serb targets.

Describing special envoy Richard Holbrooke’s meeting with Milosevic, Albright sounded pessimistic about the chance the Yugoslav leader would reverse course and accept the plan that would give self-rule to ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province and enforce it with NATO peacekeeping troops.

``He is going to deliver the message that air strikes are being prepared,″ Albright said of Holbrook’s meeting, and that Milosevic faces the ``stark choice″ of accepting a six-nation plan for the Serbian province or ``bear the consequences.″

``We have made this last effort because we believe it is important as we put Americans into a NATO force that we have gone the last mile,″ Albright said, referring to the role Americans would take in a bombing operation.

``Time has run out and that is why Mr. Holbrooke’s mission is so important,″ Albright said at a brief news conference at the State Department.

She said fighting in Kosovo had intensified while the toll of refugees fleeing their homes was on the rise. At the same time, Albright dismissed reports NATO would go on a ground offensive against the Serbs.

There is no such plan, she said.

Stating the administration’s rationale for a NATO bombardment, Albright said: ``The problem here is that the kind of things we have seen on the ground now in Kosovo, the intensification of the fighting, the huge numbers of refugees, which are being created, the possibility of additional this kind of marauding and action is something that is of great concern to us.″

Albright also said the timing of a decision to launch a NATO attack would not take into account the visit here beginning Tuesday of Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

Russia consistently has opposed a NATO bombing of the Serbs.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Holbrooke was delivering to Milosevic ``the stark choices″ of peace or NATO retaliation, a description echoed by Albright.

``It is not a negotiation,″ Lockhart said. ``It’s important that we send a strong message to President Milosevic.″

Whatever the outcome of Holbrooke’s mission, the administration is feeling heat from members of Congress about his effort on one hand and the bombing plans on the other.

Lockhart called the pressure ``unfortunate,″ saying it sends the wrong signal to Milosevic that lawmakers do not support President Clinton’s efforts to achieve peace.

``In times like this, we need to send a strong signal that we are united in pursuing our national interests,″ Lockhart said. ``I also think it’s important that if American and NATO troops will be in harm’s way that we give every chance to the peaceful solution.″

Albright announced Holbrooke’s mission Sunday. She said he will tell Milosevic he must halt aggression against the Kosovar Albanians and accept an interim settlement with a NATO-led implementation force, ``or bear the full responsibility for the consequences of NATO military action.″

``I don’t think this will delay the preparations that are going on in NATO,″ White House national security adviser Sandy Berger said on CBS’ ``Face the Nation.″

``The preference is to find a peace agreement that will bring stability to Kosovo, peace to Kosovo and rights to the Kosovar people. If we can achieve that, with the imminent threat of force, that would be a good result. But if not, ... NATO is prepared to act.″

Berger added: ``I think we owe it to the American people, we owe it to our military people, our allies, to make that final attempt.″ But he said today’s meeting in Belgrade will occur ``with the smell of exhaust fumes in the air from the aircraft.″

A timetable for possible airstrikes remained in doubt, although Berger and Albright hinted they would not come until after Holbrooke’s mission.

One potential complication was the visit to Washington, beginning Tuesday, of Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Berger said Primakov, who opposes NATO action, would not be asked to postpone the trip.

Clinton spoke Sunday about the situation with French President Jacques Chirac, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The White House said he was reaffirming NATO unity against Milosevic’s continuing military campaign.

Criticism of the administration’s activities began even before Albright announced the planned Holbrooke-Milosevic meeting.

``It’s too late to send another emissary to Milosevic,″ said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. ``Look, we have been threatening him since Christmas of 1992 ... warning him that if he attacked Kosovo, we would respond with force.″

``Great alliances and great countries don’t remain great if they issue threats and don’t keep them,″ Lieberman, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on ``Fox News Sunday.″

Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, worried about intervening ``to try to basically end a civil war.″

Speaking on CNN’s ``Late Edition,″ Kerrey said: ``I am very pessimistic we will be successful with airstrikes to get that done.″

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., planned to introduce legislation today seeking to bar the Pentagon from spending money on operations in Yugoslavia without congressional authorization.

Two Republican senators, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Pete Domenici of New Mexico, said they would vote for the measure, and they predicted passage.

``It does tie (Clinton’s) hands, but that’s the idea,″ Kyl said on Fox. ``The administration has not come forward with a convincing plan. ... To simply bomb at this point without any strategy is not a good thing for the United States or NATO to do.″

Update hourly