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Remarks by the President to the KFOR Troops

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary
(Skopje, Macedonia)

For Immediate Release June 22, 1999


Skopje, Macedonia Airport
Skopje, Macedonia

5:43 P.M. (L)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, General Clark, General Jackson, General Craddock, Colonel Ingram; ladies and gentlemen of the United States military. And as nearly as I can tell, we've got a few of our British counterparts back there, and at least two Spanish officers over here somewhere.

And I just want to say, first of all, I am proud to have the soldiers, the Marines, the airmen and women, the Naval forces of the United States of America serving in NATO. I am proud that we're part of KFOR. I'm proud that we're serving under an able commander like General Jackson. I am proud of Wes Clark.

You know, General Clark and I went through the agony of Bosnia together. He lost three good friends, who fell of a mountain because Mr. Milosevic wouldn't let them take the safe road to try to negotiate a peace. And we watched for four years while reasoned diplomacy tried to save lives, and a quarter of a million people died and two and a half million refugees were created before NATO and our friends on the ground in Croatia and Bosnia forced a settlement there and ended the horror there.

This time, we didn't wait. And it took 79 days, but that's a lot better than four years. And I hope the people of the world, when they see these horrible, horrible stories coming out, the mass graves and all of that, just imagine what it would have been like if we had stepped to the side and not done what we did for the last three months.

I hope to the day you die, you will be proud of being a part of the nation and a democratic alliance that believes that people should not be killed, uprooted or destroyed because of their race, their ethnic background or the way they worship God. I am proud of that, and I hope you are. (Applause.)

Let me also say to you that I just came from one of our refugee camps, and there are a lot of grateful people there. But you and I know that there's a lot to be done yet, and General Jackson's got a big job. And the United States is proud to be doing our part to help our allied efforts succeed there. We must not have one conflict and roll back ethnic cleansing and then lose the peace because we don't do every last thing just as we're supposed to do it.

So the whole credibility of the principle on which we have stood our ground and fought in this region for years and years now -- that here, just like in America, just like in Great Britain, people who come from different racial and ethnic and religious backgrounds can live together and work together and do better together if they simply respect each other's God-given dignity -- and we don't want our children to grow up in a 21st century world where innocent civilians can be hauled off to the slaughter, where children can die en masse, where young boys of military age can be burned alive, where young girls can be raped en masse just to intimidate their families -- we don't want our kids to grow up in a world like that.

Now, what it rides on is not the precision of our bombs, not in our power to destroy, but your power to build -- and to be safe while you're doing it and to protect the ethnic Kosovar Albanians and the ethnic Serbs alike. As long as they are innocent civilians, doing nothing wrong, they're entitled to protection. And to try to show by the power of your example, day in and day out, those of you that are going into Kosovo, that people can lay down their hatreds.

You need to think about telling your family stories. You need to think about how we can help these people get over this awful, grievous thing. I saw a lot of little kids just a few minutes ago with a lot of hurt and terror and loss in their eyes. So you've got a big, big job left.

It is not free of danger, it will not be free of difficulty. There will be some days you wish you were somewhere else. But never forget if we can do this here, and if we can then say to the people of the world, whether you live in Africa, or Central Europe, or any other place, if somebody comes after innocent civilians and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background or their religion, and it's within our power to stop it, we will stop it.

And, by the way, look at Central Europe. These people can live together and prosper together. That's what we're trying to do. It can make a huge difference to our children in the new century. It may mean that Americans will never have to fight again in a big land war, because we just let things get out of hand and out of hand and out of hand until everything blew up and there was nothing else that could be done about it. This is very important.

And, again, I say I hope you will always be proud of it. I hope you know how proud that I and the American people are of you. Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)

END 5:49 P.M. (L)

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