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President Clinton Discusses Kosovo At A Photo Opportunity

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 25, 1999


The Oval Office

12:10 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: I'm about to receive a briefing from thenational security team, as you can see. I'm very grateful that ourcrews returned home safely after their work last night. And I'm verygrateful that the United States Congress has expressed its supportfor them.

I want to say again that our purpose here is to preventa humanitarian catastrophe or a wider war. Our objective is to makeit clear that Serbia must either choose peace or we will limit itsability to make war. And we're going to get a briefing and layfurther plans today.

Q Mr. President, yesterday you listed in the briefingroom three objectives of the air strikes, but among them was not ademand that Milosevic return to the negotiating table if he signed apeace agreement. Yet others in the administration are saying thismorning that is a precondition for ending the strike. What are thefacts?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, he has to choose peace or we haveto try to limit his ability to make war. That's what we're trying todo. And I think that's been very clear. If you look at whathappened at the Rambouillet talks, the arrangement was basicallysupported by all of Europe, the United States, the Kosovars. TheRussians agreed that it was a fair agreement -- they did not agree tothe military involvement of NATO, but they agreed that it was a fairagreement. Only Mr. Milosevic and the Serbs declined to deal withthe evident responsibility they have to choose the path of peaceinstead of the path of aggression and war.

So I think that it is clear -- I don't know how to makeit any clearer -- that we either have to have a choice for peace bySerbia, not just stopping the killing for an hour or two, but achoice for peace, or we will do our best to limit their ability tomake war on those people.

Q What is the exit strategy?

THE PRESIDENT: The exit strategy is what it always isin a military operation -- it's when the mission is completed.

Q Do you believe the Kosovars can be safe without theintervention of ground troops from NATO? Can your goals be achievedjust through air strikes?

THE PRESIDENT: I do, I believe we can create asituation in which we have limited their ability to make war andthereby increase the prospects that they can protect themselvesbetter. I do believe that.

Q What about Russians threatening to arm Belgrade?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, they have quite a lot ofarms on their own. They made a lot of arms in the Former Yugoslavia.I told the American people they had a very impressive air defensesystem and they had lots of other arms and weapons. I have nointention of supporting any lifting of the arms embargo on Serbia. Ithink that would be a terrible mistake. We would be far better offif they didn't have as many arms as they do; then they would be outthere making peace and accommodating these ethnic differences andfiguring out ways they can live together.

Q Are you concerned that the American people aren'tmore strongly behind you on this?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I believe that many Americans reallyhad not thought a lot about this until the last two days. I hopethat a lot of them heard my presentation last night. I did my verybest to explain what we were doing and why, and I believe that amajority of them will support what we're trying to do here. I alsobelieve very strongly that it is my responsibility to make thisjudgment based on what I think is in the long-term interests of theAmerican people.

Q -- achieve peace or you will limit his ability tomake war, but need he come back to the conference table?

THE PRESIDENT: I think he knows what needs to be done.

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