Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release February 19, 1999
JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRESIDENT CLINTON
AND PRESIDENT JACQUES CHIRAC OF FRANCE
The East Room
3:44 P.M. EST
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Please sit down. Good afternoon. President
Chirac and I, as always, have had a very good meeting. We had a lot to
discuss and we have a lot to do together.
Most importantly today we are working together to end the fighting
in Kosovo and to help the people there obtain the autonomy and
self-government they deserve. We now call on both sides to make the
tough decisions that are necessary to stop the conflict immediately,
before more people are killed and the war spreads.
The talks going on outside Paris are set to end on Saturday. The
Kosovo Albanians have shown courage in moving forward the peace accord
that we, our NATO allies, and Russia have proposed. Serbia's leaders
now have a choice to make. They can join an agreement that meets their
legitimate concerns and gives them a chance to show that an autonomous
Kosovo can thrive as part of their country, or they can stonewall. But
if they do, they will be held accountable.
If there is an effective peace agreement, NATO stands ready to
help implement it. We also stand united in our determination to use
force if Serbia fails to meet its previous commitment to withdraw forces
from Kosovo, and if it fails to accept the peace agreement. I have
ordered our aircraft to be ready, to act as part of a NATO operation,
and I will continue to consult very closely with Congress in the days
The challenge in Kosovo and the one we have addressed in Bosnia
underscore the central role NATO plays in promoting peace and stability
in Europe. Today, the President and I discussed the 50th Anniversary
Summit, which will be held here in Washington in April, to admit Poland,
Hungary and the Czech Republic as new members, and to set NATO's course
for the new century.
The conflicts in the Balkans also highlight the need to strengthen
stability across Southeast Europe. The United States and France are
pleased to announce today that we will pursue a new initiative we hope
other allies will join, to increase cooperation with Southeast Europe's
emerging democracies on security matters; to coordinate security
assistance to them from NATO countries; to promote regional cooperation
and economic development.
The President and I also discussed our common efforts to reform
the global financial system and to support economic recovery in
countries that have been so hard hit. Last fall, working with other G-7
nations and key emerging economies, we set out a comprehensive agenda:
making financial systems more open and resilient, improving
international cooperation on financial oversight. Just this weekend in
Bonn, our finance ministers will address these topics, and the creation
of a new financial stability forum.
We're moving ahead on promoting sound lending practices and
strengthening protections for the most vulnerable members of societies
when crisis strikes. We need to do more to reduce the debts of the
poorest, most heavily indebted nations, as they seek to meet basic human
needs and undertake economic reforms. And I thank President Chirac for
championing this cause for such a long time. Our budget makes a
significant new investment in that challenge, and we have proposed ways
to help the IMF, with its existing resources, do the same.
On these issues we're aiming to make real progress by the time of
the June G-8 summit in Cologne, Germany. I very much appreciate the
President's leadership in this area.
We discussed the continuing challenge of promoting economic
recovery in Russia and working with Russia to prevent its weapons of
mass destruction, missiles and technologies from falling into the hands
of outlaw nations and terrorists. We will continue our cooperation on
securing peace in the Middle East. We talked about the Middle East
peace process at some length, we talked about our common determination
to restrain Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program.
We want to expand cooperation in Africa, promoting peace in the
Great Lakes region, encouraging and African Crisis Response capability.
And today we are announcing that we're joining together with African
nations in an effort I spoke about first last year in Senegal, building
an African Center for Security Studies, to promote peace and democracy.
Finally, Mr. President, I want to thank France for showing
leadership by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. One hundred
fifty-two nations have signed the treaty, which would end nuclear
testing forever and make it harder for more nations to develop nuclear
weapons. Once again I want to express my hope that our Senate will also
provide its advice and consent for ratification this year.
Mr. President, the floor is yours.
PRESIDENT CHIRAC: Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, first of
all, I want to say how happy I am to be once again here in the United
States and here in Washington. I'm happy to be in this country, which
is where everything is moving; this country which constantly surprises
the world and a country which for a long time I have been very fond of.
And when I feel well, I feel happy, and once again I'm happy to be the
guest of President Bill Clinton. And I think everyone knows the regard
and the friendship I have and I've had for a long time for President
Clinton, and I want to thank him once again for his hospitality.
The President has covered, more or less, all the subjects that
were on the agenda of our talks, so I'm going to make two remarks only.
The first is to say that our agreement on the present problems in Kosovo
is an unqualified agreement, it's a complete agreement. We're almost at
the end of the time allotted for trying to work things out at
Rambouillet, and after President Clinton and I would like to say to the
two parties, and in particular to President Milosevic -- who in fact
holds more or less the key to the solution -- that the time has come to
shoulder all his responsibilities and to choose the path of wisdom, and
not the path of war, which would bear very serious consequences for
people who would make that choice, for themselves and for their people.
It's a very heavy responsibility that they would be taking, if they were
to do that.
I've already had occasion to say that, as far as the Europeans are
concerned, it is our continent which is involved here, and we want our
continent to be in peace, to be at peace, and we will not accept that
situations such as the present situation in Kosovo should continue.
My second remark concerns a subject which President Clinton has
not mentioned, but that we have talked about at some time, and that for
me it's the big problem, for the big issue for the beginning of the next
century, and that is what President Clinton raised himself about a
couple of months ago, in a talk he gave -- the question of humanizing
globalization, making globalization more human. Everyone understands
that globalization is both inevitable and also it bears progress, and
this can be understood every day, ever more. And this is something that
must be -- a process that must be encouraged. It's a good thing.
But everyone I think can also understand that there can be social
consequences of this and it's really our job to control them. And it's
one of the big challenges I think of this society in the years to come.
And for we, the Europeans, it was really very gratifying to hear a
President of the United States put this issue to the fore of matters
that the world has to contend with. And I entirely agree with what he
has said. And it's also a question that we have talked about among
Otherwise, President Clinton has, in fact, covered everything we
have been talking about, so I won't add anything because I entirely
agree with him. And, of course, I also agree to reply to your questions
on these important issues for the whole world.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: -- French and American journalists, beginning
with Mr. Hunt.
Q President Clinton, President Milosevic refused to meet with the
U.S. Envoy today, Christopher Hill, and said that he would not give up
Kosovo, even at the price of a bombing. Is there any possibility that
NATO would extend the Saturday noon deadline for reaching an agreement?
And what do you say to President Yeltsin of Russia when he said that, we
will not allow Kosovo to be touched?
And for President Chirac, did you and President Clinton find
agreement today on the issue of Iraqi sanctions?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: First, let me say I think it would be a
mistake to extend the deadline. And I respect the position of Russia
and I thank the Russians for supporting the peace process, as well as
the proposed agreement. We had many of the same tensions in Bosnia,
where ultimately we wound up working together for peace. I believe that
is what will happen.
I would like to go back to the -- just very briefly -- to the
merits of the argument that Mr. Milosevic made. He says that if he
accepts this multinational peacekeeping force it's like giving up
Kosovo. I personally believe it's the only way he can preserve Kosovo
as a part of Serbia. Under their laws, Kosovo is supposed to be
autonomous, but a part of Serbia. Its autonomy was effectively stripped
from it years ago.
We are now trying to find some way to untangle the injuries and
harms and arguments that have come from both sides, and permit a period
of three years to develop within which the Serbian security forces can
withdraw, a police force, civil institutions can be developed -- we can
give them a chance to prove that they can function together.
I don't think, unless we do this, there is any way for the
integrity of Serbia ultimately to be preserved, because of the
incredible hostility and the losses and the anger that's already there.
So I'm not trying to -- at least from our part, and I believe
President Chirac and all the Europeans feel the same way -- we're trying
to give this a chance to work, not trying to provide a wedge to undo
PRESIDENT CHIRAC: Well, I entirely share the position expressed
by President Clinton. I would doubt that -- I'm convinced that the only
possibility for Mr. Milosevic, the only way he can keep Kosovo within
internationally recognized frontiers, as of course, planned in the
Yugoslav constitution, a high degree of substantial autonomy,
substantial autonomy -- the only way he can keep the situation is to
accept the proposals that are made today. Any other solution, I repeat,
would involve for Mr. Milosevic some very serious consequences, indeed.
Q If the failure is -- everything fails tomorrow, what could then
prevent a military strike on the part of NATO? If there is no agreement
tomorrow, what would then prevent --
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think there would have to be an agreement
before the strikes commence. I don't think there is an option.
Because, keep in mind, part of what we have asked is that President
Milosevic do things that he has already agreed to do, as I said in my
opening statement. And we would -- the NATO nations have decided, and
have given the Secretary General authority, to pursue a strategy which
would at least reduce his capacity to take further aggressive military
action against the Kosovar Albanians.
This assumes, of course, that he doesn't accept it and that they
do, as we discussed. But that would be my position. I believe that is
both our positions.
PRESIDENT CHIRAC: Without a shadow of a doubt.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Helen?
Q President Clinton, what lessons have you learned from your
13-month ordeal? Do you think the office of the presidency has been
harmed? And what advice would you give to future Presidents?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, of course, I've learned a lot of
personal lessons, most of which I have already discussed -- and
Presidents are people, too. I have learned, again, an enormous amount
of respect for our Constitution, our framers, and for the American
people. And my advice to future Presidents would be to decide what you
believe you ought to do for the country, and focus on it and work hard.
The American people hire you to do that and will respond if you work at
it and if they sense that you're doing this for them.
Q And you don't think the office of the President has been harmed?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Oh, I think the Constitution has been, in
effect, re-ratified. And I hope that the presidency has not been harmed
-- I don't believe it has been. I can't say that I think has been good
for the country, but we will see. I expect to have two good years here.
I think the American people expect the Congress and me to get back
to work; expect us either not to have any destructive feelings or, if we
do, not to let them get in the way of our doing their business. These
are jobs, these are positions of public responsibility. These are --
and the United States has great responsibilities to its own people and
to the rest of the world. And I don't believe that any of us can afford
to let what has happened get in the way of doing our best for our own
people and for the future. And I'm going to do my very best to do that.
And I think that we should all discipline ourselves with that in mind.
Q My question is to both Presidents. Have you talked about
bananas? Because this is an American-European problem, but also a
problem for France because of the Caribbean bananas. And have you found
a compromise? Could President Clinton explain to me why the United
States is being so aggressive on this business? Because to my
knowledge, and contrary to France, and Europe, the United States
themselves don't produce bananas.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Yes, we talked about it. (Laughter.) And
we're being quite strong about it because we do have companies involved,
and there are people involved in other countries, not just the Caribbean
-- Central America, for example -- and because we think the trade law is
clear. We won a trade dispute. We won. And we have been trying to --
there's been a finding here, and we've been trying to work out a
reasonable solution with the Europeans, especially with the British, and
others, and there has been no willingness to resolve this.
We don't want to provoke a trade crisis, but we won. And from our
point of view -- this is one place where we disagree -- the Europeans
are basically saying, well, you won this trade fight under the law, but
we still don't think you have a meritorious position; therefore, we will
not yield. Well, when we lose trade fights, we lose them. And if we're
going to have a global trading system and a system for resolving
disputes -- which, most of believe, normally take too long, anyway --
and if we're, all of us, expected to have a reasonable resolution when
we lose -- and that's what you'd expect the United States to do -- then
that's what we want from Europe.
We took this matter through the normal chain of events, and we
won. And I think most people in Europe believe we shouldn't have won,
but sometimes we lose cases we think we shouldn't have lost, too. And,
therefore, we would like a resolution of this consistent with the
finding of international trade law.
PRESIDENT CHIRAC: I would simply add this, that yes, we did talk
about this problem, and President Clinton just said that the United
States had companies -- corporations involved. And my answer is that we
have the actual workers who are involved. And I also added that the
banana in the Caribbean was obviously the best, the best banana in the
world, and that therefore they had to be safeguarded, and in the
interest of mankind and I counted on him to understand this.
Q I wonder if you could share with us some of your thoughts about
the pros and cons of -- Senate seat in New York -- Mrs. Clinton --
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, first of all, I think it's important
that you all understand -- I think you know this -- that this is nothing
that ever crossed her mind until other people began to mention it to
her. To me, the most important thing is that she decides to do what she
wants to do. And I will be strongly supportive of whatever decision she
makes and will do all I can to help on this and any other decision from
now on -- just as she's helped me for the last 20-plus years. If she
decided to do it and she were elected, I think she would do a fabulous
But I think that it's important to remember this is an election
which occurs in November of 2000, and she has just been through a very
exhausting year. And there are circumstances which have to be
considered and I think some time needs to be taken here.
I also think that even in a presidential race, it's hard to keep a
kettle of water boiling for almost two years. And so I just -- from my
point of view, this thing is -- it's a little premature. And I would
like to see her take -- my advice has been to take some time, get some
rest, listen to people on both sides of the argument, and decide exactly
what you think is right to do. And then, whatever she decides I'll be
Q Mr. President, if it appears that the Serbs -- they have to be
sanctioned because they refuse the presence of NATO troops in Kosovo,
have you the assurance that the Kosovo Liberation Army will renounce its
demands on independence?
PRESIDENT CHIRAC: Well, as I said before, the pressure that we
are exerting, legitimately, especially we're exercising on both parties,
on both sides. And we replied to a question on Serbia because the
question was on Serbia, but let's be perfectly clear -- a lot will
depend on the personal position adopted by Mr. Milosevic.
But it goes without saying that if the failure, the breakdown, was
caused by the Kosovars, their responsibility, sanctions of a different
kind, probably, but very firm sanctions would be applied against them.
We haven't -- there's no choice. I mean, we don't have to choose. We
want peace, that's all.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all, I can entirely support what
President Chirac said. But if I could just emphasize that the agreement
requires that they accept autonomy, at least for three years, and sets
in motion a three-year process to resolve all these outstanding
questions. Three years would give us time to stop the killing, cool the
tempers. And it would also give time for the Serbs to argue that if
they return to the original constitutional intent -- that is, to have
genuine autonomy for Kosovo, as Kosovo once enjoyed -- that that would
be the best thing for them, economically and politically. And people
would have a chance to see and feel those things.
Right now -- after all that's gone on, and all the people that
have died, and all the bloody fighting, and all the incredibly vicious
things that have been said -- you know, we just need a timeout here. We
need a process within which we can get the security forces out -- as Mr.
Milosevic said he would do, before -- and build some internal
institutions within Kosovo capable of functioning, and then see how it
goes. I think that's the most important thing.
And so, yes -- to go back to what President Chirac said -- yes,
both sides have responsibility. Their responsibility would be to
acknowledge that that is the deal for the next three years, during which
time we resolve the long-term, permanent questions.
Thank you very much.
END 4:10 P.M. EST
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