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Updated: 3 May 1999 Morning Briefings

NATO HQ

3 May 1999

Morning Briefing

By Jamie Shea, NATO Spokesman

Jamie Shea: Good morning! I am here to give you the quick operational update in the usual fashion. Let me just point out that the Council is meeting today at 11 o'clock and that I will be back with SHAPE in the usual fashion at 3 o'clock for the daily operational briefing on camera.

There is one expression of SACEUR's that I'm sure you've heard on many previous occasions, he has said: "There are tanks and there are tanks!" What he means by that is that a tank which is stuck in its tracks because it has no fuel is far less of a tank and far less of a threat than one that has fuel and can move and as you know - and I think President Milosevic has realised this this morning more than ever before - there are also command-and-control systems and command-and-control systems and if a command-and-control system has no electricity to turn it on, it is of course wire, metal and plastic and not a functioning military system and that is what we did in our operations last night, we went out to deprive the command-and-control system of its electricity, of its power and to reduce it to wire, plastic and metal.

Alliance aircraft yesterday evening struck the five main electric yards that distribute power to the Serb armed forces, the military machine of President Milosevic, the power which supplies his airfields, his headquarters, his communication systems, his command-and-control network and no power means no runway lights, no computers, no secure communications.

More specifically, NATO aircraft last night struck the transformer yards of Opranovac (phon), a key electrical distribution station in western Serbia. We also attacked the transformer yard at Nis in southern Serbia and this has degraded significantly the command, control and communications capabilities of the 3rd Yugoslav Army headquartered in Nis; and we hit the transformer yards also in three other locations - Bajinabasta (phon), Dermo and Novi Sad - as well.

I want you to know - and I want to stress this - that NATO forces took the utmost care to ensure that important civilian facilities like hospitals had redundant power capabilities and that they had therefore the back-up transformers to keep their systems running through these power outages and I believe that you have seen from reports this morning from Belgrade that that was indeed the case, that those essential civilian services like hospitals were running. We regret the inconvenience that power outages have caused to the Serb people but we have no choice but to continue attacking every element of the Yugoslav armed forces until such time as President Milosevic accepts the demands of the international community, those five unconditional points which we reiterate every day and I just want to remind you of what those five points are: that Milosevic must stop the killing, that he must get his troops out of Kosovo, that he must accept an international military presence with NATO as its core to establish security inside Kosovo, that he must allow without any restriction or qualification the return of all refugees and that he must work to build a permanent political solution based on the Rambouillet peace plan and we are not asking for anything more but we will not settle for anything less.

Questions & Answers

Question (ABC News): What's on the Council's agenda for today?

Jamie Shea: The Council today will be updating its assessments of the current situation in Kosovo based on a report by Klaus Naumann, the Chairman of the Military Committee, particularly reviewing - as I am doing with you at the moment - the developments on the military scene over the last 24 hours and in that respect let me stress that, as you know, the last 72 hours have seen the most intensive period thus far of NATO air operations bringing us beyond the 14,000 sortie mark since the operation began on 24th March and with on average over 600 sorties per night in recent nights so I think that will be the first thing on the agenda.

Secondly, there will be a review of the current humanitarian situation which continues to cause us enormous concern - I will be speaking about that later at 3 o'clock - and then obviously NATO ambassadors will discuss various planning activities following on from the Washington summit.

Question (CNN): Reaction to the Chirnomyrdin visit to Washington?

Jamie Shea: Well obviously we are very pleased that Russia clearly wants to engage with the NATO countries in the search for a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Kosovo. It is very encouraging that not only does Mr. Chirnomyrdin want to be in Washington today to meet President Clinton but also apparently wants to go on to Paris, to London and other NATO capitals in the next few days. We have always made it clear that we want Russia to be our partner in seeking a diplomatic solution but everybody knows that that diplomatic solution can only be based on the five principles, principles which are not simply NATO principles, they have been endorsed by virtually the entire international community. It is only on that basis that we can create a lasting real peace for Kosovo, anything less risks purely postponing the crisis to a later stage. We have seen with President Milosevic last October that half a cake is as good as no cake because he then slides back and we find ourselves in an even worse situation that we were in before so we hope obviously with Russia to build a common position but it has to be based on the five principles and we will continue to engage Russia in that respect - let us obviously see what happens in Washington - but I think the fact that we are talking to the Russians so intensively, that the Russians are engaging so intensively is an encouraging sign even if we may still have differences in our positions but at least we are working to narrow those positions but it has to be once again on the basis of the five core requirements of the international community.

Dimitri: As a follow-up, is it only bilateral relations with NATO countries or are there some signs of relations between NATO headquarters here and the Russians?

Jamie Shea: No. This is being done, Dimitri, on a bilateral basis but obviously the NATO Allies are all heavily engaged in those talks. It's not simply France or the UK or the United States, you've seen that the Canadian Foreign Minister, Mr. Axworthy (phon), has been in Moscow; we know that the Belgian Foreign Minister, Mr. Dereik (phon), is there today to see Foreign Minister Ivanov; last week, Mr. Papandreou, the Greek Foreign Minister, was also in Moscow; Mr. Chirnomyrdin was in Rome last week meeting the Italian government before his trip to Belgrade so what I want to show you is that it's not simply the larger NATO countries that are involved in this, all NATO countries almost without exception are speaking to the Russians trying to engage the Russians, to seek their support on the five core principles that we know are the only way to solve this crisis.

Julie: There were some reports that the ordnance used was a powder that was dropped on these power plants. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about that?

Jamie Shea: I am not a military specialist, Julie, and the SHAPE briefing this afternoon I think will be a bit more detailed on that, particularly coming from the experts but what we have done is to demonstrate our ability to shut off the power system whenever we want and to do it in a way which short-circuits electrical systems without destroying the basic infrastructure which drives those systems and I think that shows that first of all, our key objective is not to deprive the Serb people of their electrical grid but to be able to disrupt and degrade at will the power that drives the military machine so that it is shut off for significant periods of time and so that the Yugoslav Army has to go to enormous trouble to try to restore that power and that disruption is going to cause a sufficient degree of uncertainty in their command-and-control systems to give NATO a significant tactical advantage as well so that shows that we have the technology to achieve a significant military result in an essential area - the command-and-control system - without having to destroy that basic infrastructure which of course is what drives the civilian electricity grid and I think that that will show President Milosevic in a very significant way just how much we can now shut down the power system as and when we have to do it.

John: Jamie, doesn't the study of bombardment campaigns like this in the past show that when targets like power systems and other things that affect the civilian population are hit, that this actually increases the support of the civilian population for the regime in place? It seems to be that there has been a Rubicon crossed here.

Jamie Shea: John, obviously we want to spare the inconvenience to the Serb people but clearly we have to go after the fundamental military objectives.

One thing that I have noticed - and I don't know if you have noticed this too - but over the last couple of days we haven't seen on our television screens the outpouring of nationalism that characterised the early stages of this air campaign, the rock concerts in Belgrade, the human shields although I wouldn't used that term but they were described as human shields on the bridges in Belgrade, the expressions of support seem to have disappeared and I don't believe it is because people have stopped filming, I think it is because they haven't taken place. I said the other day that when Vuk Draskovic was still in the government and tried to organise his so-called "anti-NATO happenings", they collapsed because virtually nobody showed up and I've seen several reports - and these are in the open press, in the presses of different countries - over the last few days of people in Belgrade that say that the mood has changed, that if you like, the euphoria of nationalism is subsiding, that people are starting to weigh the consequences of the type of confrontation that Milosevic has embarked them on and they don't like it and they like it less and less. Even if this is not the type of organised resistance that we saw in 1996 and 1997, people are now starting to question where Milosevic is taking them and I think these signs will grow so I don't share that hypothesis that these things are going to stir up patriotism, I think quite the contrary, they are going to increase demands on Milosevic to stop this, to settle on the reasonable terms of the international community and start looking after what any leader should be looking after which is not his own prestige but the interests of his people.

Doug: Just a follow-up on all of that, Jamie. Surely it is a little bit disingenuous to say that NATO regrets the inconvenience, surely you want large areas of the population in the country to get the message?

Jamie Shea: We don't want the population to get the message, Doug, I think they got the message years ago when their standards of living started plummeting as a result of the misrule of the current government. No, we want the regime to get the message and I think with their command-and-control severely disrupted last night and seeing just how quickly and massively NATO is able to do this, they will have one more thing to worry about in addition to all of the other things they have to worry about and maybe they will start worrying a little bit about how they are going to accept the five key provisions of the international community. We want to worry the government first and foremost and I think we did that last night.

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