29 May 1999
by Mr Javier Solana, NATO Secretary GeneralMr Peter Daniel:
Good Afternoon. General Jertz and I are both here. There will be no formal presentation today. The statements will come from, and the questions will be directed to, the Secretary General and SACEUR who are in Aviano this afternoon.
and General Wesley Clark, SACEUR
Secretary General, the floor is yours.
Thank you very much. You can hear the noise behind us. We are in Aviano, which is one of the most important bases for these operations. It is a base from which more than a quarter of the flights are taking off, it is a multinational base, pilots from many countries are here.
And I would like to say that for me, the most impressive experience, after having talked to the pilots, is to see how committed they are to this campaign. I have listened to them telling me stories of what they have seen on the ground, how they have seen the brutality that is taking place today on the ground, houses being burnt, people being expelled from their houses, and it is very interesting to hear these brave pilots who are so committed to defend the values that we are trying to defend.
It is for me a great pleasure to be here and I wish you could have been with me here, and also on the trip I made to the refugee camps. I think that visiting these people, visiting the camps, gives you the energy to continue with this battle, which after all is a battle to defend principles and values.
Thank you very much.
As the Secretary General has said, it is very, very impressive to be here with the pilots and the air crews and all of the maintenance personnel. We have reviewed the procedures, the plans, the results, we have talked to a number of air crew men, the mission planners and the intelligence staffs and the maintainers today, and just gotten a real sampling for how things are going at this very, very important base. We have got almost 200 aircraft here and from several different nations and it is a real model of NATO cohesion and unity. The crews are working together extremely well, the morale is extremely high and we are getting outstanding results on the ground and in the sky over Yugoslavia, and particularly over Kosovo.
I am very proud of the continuous innovation and adaptation, the learning being done by the air crews. On every mission they are learning new techniques, they are perfecting their skills and they are approaching this task with the highest degree of professionalism and concern to minimise collateral damages and to strike precisely the assigned targets or fielded forces. So it is a very, very impressive experience to talk to so many highly dedicated professional men and women. They are really first class, they are great representatives of all of the countries of NATO, and as the Secretary General said, we are very, very proud of them and proud of the work that they are doing, and I guess most of all proud of their courage and commitment to this task.
We are up in day 66 or so in the air campaign, it has been sustained, it has been methodical, it has been progressive, it is more intense every day and it is definitely succeeding in putting the pressure on at the strategic and at the tactical level, and it is being done by the men and women at this base and we are just very, very proud of them.
Jake Lynch, Sky News:
Good Afternoon Gentlemen, one question each please. Mr Solana, it is reported from the Pentagon that the American Defence Secretary, William Cohen, made a flying visit to Bonn a couple of days ago to the WEU Defence Ministers meeting, and that the upshot of that is that General Clark is now denied permission even to go so far as to draw up plans for a possible ground invasion of Kosovo. Firstly, could you confirm or comment on that?
Secondly to the General, it is some days now, Sir, since the first attacks which cut power supplies in Yugoslavia. We are told here that one purpose of that is to disrupt command and control. Have you noticed any specific instance on the ground where there has been an impairment to the capabilities of Yugoslavian forces which you can directly attribute to those attacks?
I will try to answer your question. As you know, I did not participate in that meeting, it was a meeting of the Ministers of Defence of the European Union, but I had the opportunity of talking to many of them, including Secretary Cohen, on the telephone, and I can tell you that the common denominator of that meeting was to continue with that campaign, with the strategy we have, the air campaign, the preparation of the force to be deployed to guarantee the security of Kosovo and the safe return of the refugees. But as I have said, all the options are being up-dated permanently, but the strategy we have now is the correct strategy and we are going to see it through.
With respect to the attacks on the electrical system, of course you understand that the electrical system for a country like Yugoslavia is like the circulatory system, the blood vessels for a body, it is what everything else depends on. So naturally an attack on the electrical system has widespread impact across all of the support functions of command and control, the infrastructure, the lines of communication everything is impacted by the disruption of the electrical supply. Specifically in answer to your question though, I would tell you that we have targeted this disruption on the forces that are supporting the activities in Kosovo, not the forces in Kosovo themselves. The electricity is not off in Kosovo, the electricity is off in the rest of Yugoslavia. We did this intentionally because we want to degrade their air defence system, their overall command and control and their ability to feed resources into the fight, and we are seeing evidence that this is very effective.
Patricia Kelly, CNN :
I would like to put a question to the Secretary General and then to General Clark. Secretary General, we are getting a lot of noises out of Moscow, positive feed-back from Mr Chernomyrdin's latest round of talks in Belgrade. Can you tell us what you have heard, if anything, about the progress of those talks and about reports that the Belgrade authorities are ready to accept NATO's demands? General Clark, everyday at these operational updates that we have here in Brussels we are hearing that you have targeted more and more Serb troops on the ground in Kosovo and we get lists of tanks and military vehicles, but we are not getting any kind of information from the military about how many Serb police or Yugoslav military you may have actually killed. Do you have any information on that that you could up-date us with because presumably these vehicles are operated by human beings?
Thank you very much for the question. Well I don't have any fresh information. I will probably have more information along the day. But the only thing I can tell you is that we welcome of course any diplomatic effort in order to have Belgrade accept the position of the international community and to accept the aim of our objectives. But let me remind you that our objective is the safe return of the refugees, as soon as possible, and for that it is necessary to have an international force deployed in Kosovo to guarantee their security and the safe return for refugees. But again, I said we welcome all initiatives that may bring it to that end. I don't know if this one is going to bring closer this end, but in any case I hope it will.
Patricia, I think we are doing, as you indicate, a very, very fine job in striking the forces on the ground in Kosovo. Every day they are losing tanks, artillery, air defence systems, trucks, all of the stuff of war, and I don't care how tough that army is or how it tries to hide, no army can stand the continual losses day after day in a campaign of indefinite duration on the ground in Kosovo and we know it is having a significant impact because they are literally scurrying away to hide when they see NATO aircraft coming overhead and we are still catching them. I couldn't give you an estimate of how many soldiers we have killed or injured in this thing, there is no way of knowing that. We do have reports that a lot of the hospitals in the region are packed with injured soldiers, it is one of the reasons that they have had so many problems with the civil populous in southern Serbia because that is where they drew their reserves from to fill out these units in Kosovo. And so naturally the families are concerned about them, they are in an unjust war, they are being pounded from the air and by the UCK on the ground, so I think it is very understandable why there is concern among the civil populous in southern Serbia that we have seen in recent days. But we don't want to get into the body count business, we are not on the ground, there is no way of doing it and even if there were it is not the right measure. We know we are having an impact, we see it in President Milosevic's thirst for a bombing pause. Every day he is trying more and more to get us to stop this bombing because it is hurting at the strategic and tactical level, that is the real measure of the campaign's success.
Stephen Grey, Sunday Times:
General Clark, I wonder if you could comment on how safe you believe it is for international aid agencies to do air drops into Kosovo and what arrangements you are making to protect those flights, if any? General Solana, I gather there has been a call from some allies for a meeting of the G8 to consider the statement from Milosevic last night that he is prepared to accept the G8 demands, and I wonder what you think of that?
With respect to the international aid flights, of course these have nothing to do with NATO. We are not in any way protecting or escorting these flights, we already looked at that as an option, it is really not possible for NATO to escort and protect cargo-type aircraft when they are flying over and making drops of food. So therefore it is best that they not be associated with NATO. We made it perfectly clear that these would not be NATO aircraft, they have no relationship to NATO except that they are going to fly into the air space at a time when we are going to be sure we don't do anything to put them in jeopardy. Whether the Serbs do or not, really NATO doesn't have any say over that and it just can't be any other way, but I can't imagine that the Serbs would view with hostility unarmed third party aircraft who are only delivering food to some of Serbia's and Yugoslavia's own citizens who have been cut off from food, it seems to me a logical assumption that these aircraft would be allowed to proceed without hindrance by Yugoslav authorities. But as I said, we have to leave that to them.
Let me just say a word about the question on the G8. Yes, I know that France and Germany have suggested the possibility of a G8 meeting. I think it is a good initiative. As I said before, whatever can be done on the diplomatic front it will be more than welcome.
Pierre Benazet - Radio France
M. Le Secrtaire gnral, est-ce que vous pouvez nous dire exactement quelle est votre opinion sur les dclarations faites Belgrade hier soir, est-ce que vous trouvez que cela est positif pour le processus de paix ?
Je viens de dire il y a quelques minutes en rpondant la premire question, que bien sr nous souhaitons la bienvenue toutes les initiatives/faits politiques s'ils vont dans la direction de Belgrade qui accepte les conditions de la Communaut Internationale et j'espre et souhaite que toutes les initiatives iront dans cette direction, mais je crois que nous devons attendre avoir les consquences relles de la rsolution signe hier.
Pierre Julien - RTL
M. Le Secrtaire gnral, effectivement il y a donc cette proposition de Slobodan Milosevic ; les pays de l'Alliance restent un peu dans l'expectative. Ne craignez-vous pas que Milosevic, mis au ban des nations finalement par le TPI mme s'il n'est pas condamn, de plus en plus isol, ne conduise son pays finalement vers la ruine avec une politique suicidaire, type Adolf Hitler ?
Je ne crois pas que les pays de l'Alliance restent sans rien faire et comme vous le savez les initiatives politiques sont l'ordre du jour, et hier pour donner un exemple, la runion au Sommet entre la France et l'Allemagne a pris des initiatives pour la runion du G-8. Je crois que les initiatives diplomatiques continuent mais nous devons mon avis continuer avec la stratgie de l'OTAN pour aboutir le conflit, mais aboutir de manire juste, et a veut dire avoir la possibilit relle pour les rfugis de retourner chez eux et pour avoir le Kosovo multiethnique et dans lequel les gens peuvent vivre en paix, avec prosprit et avec avenir dans le futur .
M. Le Secrtaire gnral, vous ne craignez pas vraiment une politique suicidaire de la part de Milosevic ?
Oh j'espre que la pression diplomatique et aussi la pression militaire, et aussi l'isolement de Milosevic du point de vue international et du point de vue pnal et du point de vue de la politique interne dans le pays, le fera accepter les conditions de la communaut internationale. Je ne crois pas que les gens l au Kosovo, en Serbie en gnral, continueront accepter un leader politique qui fait les choses qu'il est en train de faire et qu'il a fait dj son peuple.
Secretary General, there are more and more ideas about the partition of Kosovo, there are some reports that even Chernomyrdin was speaking with Milosevic yesterday about that idea. What is the position of NATO on that? General Clark, what is going on with the Apache helicopters and personally what do you think about the indictment of Milosevic for war crimes?
Let me try to answer the first question that was formulated to me. The international community, NATO, the European Union, everybody, is absolutely against the partition of Kosovo, we will never accept the partition of Kosovo, that is very clear and the position from the very beginning and it will continue to be the position of the international community.
As far as the Apaches are concerned, I think the team down there has done a magnificent job, it is trained and ready. I have formed my assessment, made my recommendations and I am confident they will be used at a time and a place when it is appropriate and of our own choosing.
With respect to the indictment of President Milosevic, of course this is an international legal issue, it has really nothing to do at this point with NATO and we are continuing with the air campaign.
Jennifer Griffin, Fox News:
General Clark, have you received permission to increase the number of KFOR forces in Macedonia? And if you haven't received permission for that enlarged force, are you planning to ask Hungary to put troops on its soil for that enlarged force?
I don't think that putting these troops in Hungary would be productive to the purpose of the enhanced KFOR, but we have gone through the North Atlantic Council, the Secretary General, the Ambassadors and the nations have give us permission to expand the size of the force to 45 - 48,000. We will be going through the normal NATO Force Generation procedures, including a conference of nations at our military headquarters at SHAPE on Tuesday, and it is my hope that nations will come prepared at that point to explain what their contribution is to this enhanced force and to get on with moving it to Macedonia. We need to get it there and we need to get it there right away.
You said: "the time is approaching when a decision on a land invasion will have to be made." Is this correct?
I have said that time is approaching when a decision will have to be made to keep all the options open. That is a correct statement.
Peter, I am afraid we will have to leave. Let me before we close repeat what I said at the beginning. It is very impressive to be with these multinational pilots who are doing a splendid job, they are committed to this cause, which is a just cause. And I would like to repeat that it is very impressive to listen to them telling what they have seen as they were flying, the brutalities that they have seen as they were flying, the houses burning. It is for them also an unforgettable experience to see the suffering of the people on the ground.
Thank you very much for this possibility of talking to you. Thank you.
Thank you Secretary General, thank you General Clark. Jamie will be here tomorrow morning, at 10.30, with the update and again tomorrow afternoon at 3.00 pm.