U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE 95/08/19 SPECIAL PRESS BRIEFING OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman August 19, 1995 SPECIAL BRIEFING ON THE DEATHS OF U.S. OFFICIALS ENROUTE TO SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA Saturday, August 19, 1995, 3:03 P.M.
MR. JOHNSON: Good afternoon. This is a very sad day and it's going to be a very difficult briefing, so if you'll bear with me. I have several statements to read to you, to begin. The first, from the President: "I am deeply sadden today by the deaths of three dedicated Americans, serving the cause of peace near Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. We have confirmed reports that Ambassador Robert Frasure, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, Dr. Joseph J. Kruzel, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy, and United States Air Force Colonel Samuel Nelson Drew, a member of the National Security Council Staff, were killed this morning in a crash of their military vehicle on the way to Sarajevo. Two other members of the delegation were injured. "These men were part of an American team searching for an end to the conflict there. That effort will continue. "In addition, one French soldier was killed and two were injured. The three were part of the team escorting the United States delegation. "I also want to thank the Government of France and the United Nations Protection Force for their extraordinary efforts to care for the casualties. "My heartfelt sympathy is extended to the Frasure, Kruzel, and Drew families. In honor of their sacrifice, I have directed that our nation's flags be lowered. Their loved ones were engaged in the greatest cause of all -- the search for peace. As the scripture tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." The second statement is by Secretary of State Christopher: "I am shocked and saddened by the tragic death of my colleague and friend, Ambassador Robert Frasure, and two other dedicated American officials. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs and Special Envoy to Bosnia, Bob Frasure's critical role in shaping a diplomatic solution to the Balkan conflict was recognized and respected by President Clinton, his U.S. Government colleagues, and leaders throughout the world. "I worked closely and met constantly with Bob in responding to this delicate and demanding challenge. The peace plan that our delegation was pursuing this past week drew heavily on the wisdom and experience of Bob Frasure who helped shaped its elements and gave all his energy to fulfilling its promise. "I consider Bob Frasure to have been one of the most dedicated and courageous public servants with whom I have ever had the privilege of working. I benefited personally from his sharp insight and his wise counsel, and grew to admire his judgment and enjoy his sense of humor. My State Department colleagues and I will miss him greatly. "Our prayers go out to his wife Katerin and his daughters, Sarah and Virginia. "I am also deeply saddened by the deaths of Dr. Joseph Kruzel, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, and Colonel Samuel Nelson Drew of the National Security Council Staff. Both were superb public servants who made important contributions to this mission of peace. "I also want to express my condolences and regret to the Government and people of France on the death of one French peacekeeper and serious injuries to two others in the same accident. France has once again earned our gratitude not only for its immediate response to today's accident but for its continuing participation in UNPROFOR and humanitarian relief efforts in Bosnia. "As President Clinton has already made clear, the United States' effort will continue. We are determined to press forward to find a diplomatic solution to this tragic conflict." This next statement is on behalf of the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Perry: "I am personally and deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life resulting from the accident today in Bosnia. These brave and dedicated men were on a vitally important mission to help achieve peace in that war-torn part of the world. "I would like to extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of Dr. Joseph Kruzel, Ambassador Robert Frasure and Colonel Nelson Drew, and to the families of those Americans and French members of the delegation who were injured in the accident. Their contributions to the peace process were immeasurable. "Joe Kruzel, my Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy, was a personal friend. Joe has served the Department and this nation tirelessly and with great dedication and distinction. He will be missed greatly by all of us who knew and admired. "To his wife, Gail, and his children, Sarah and John, I offer, on behalf of a grateful nation, our sympathy and best wishes in this time of great tragedy." And, finally, on behalf of National Security Advisor Anthony Lake: "I would like to add my personal condolences to those of the President on the deaths today of the three American envoys and friends who were in Bosnia-Herzegovina on a mission for peace. I worked closely with Ambassador Robert Frasure, Dr. Joseph Kruzel, and Colonel Samuel Nelson Drew in seeking a political solution to the tragic conflict in the former Yugoslavia. All three were dedicated and determined public servants who brought vision and creativity to the search for a diplomatic settlement. The American people have lost three of their finest representatives. "I want to say a special word about Nelson Drew, who served on the National Security Council Staff over the past months. Nelson was an excellent military officer, a strategic thinker, and an extraordinary human being. He came to the National Security Council after a distinguished career as a professor at the United States Air Force Academy and the National War College, and as a soldier-diplomat at the United States Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He brought great wisdom and energy to his work on the NSC staff as well as passionate commitment to the nation's interests. "Nelson's ideas played a major role in the formulation of the new U.S. diplomatic initiative that he was helping to present to the parties before this terrible tragedy occurred. "I have assured Nelson's wife, Sandy, and his children, Samantha and Philip, that we would persevere in the quest for peace for which Nelson drew gave his life." Those are the statements. I'd like to tell you a little about what we know about what went on and what happened this morning. According to the information that we now have, the accident occurred at approximately 5:30 a.m. Washington time; that's about 11:30 a.m. Sarajevo time. A French armored personnel carrier that was carrying part of the Holbrooke team enroute to Sarajevo over the Mt. Igman road ran onto the soft shoulder of the road to avoid an on-coming convoy. Because of the extensive rains in the area, the shoulder was soaked with water and gave way. The APC plunged down a steep slope. There is every indication that this was an accident, and there is no indication of hostile military action to cause it. As I've already told you, those killed in the accident include Ambassador Robert Frasure, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Kruzel, United States Air Force Colonel Samuel Nelson Drew of the National Security Council Staff, and a French peacekeeper. Those injured include Embassy Sarajevo Regional Security Officer Peter Hargraves, Lt. Colonel Daniel Gerstein, and two other French peacekeepers. The injuries are not considered life-threatening. Ambassador Holbrooke and General Wesley Clark were traveling in another vehicle and were not involved in the accident. At about 6:00 p.m. Washington time, Ambassador Holbrooke, General Clark, and their party met with President Izetbegovic and Foreign Minister Sacirbey, continuing their mission and their press for peace. Q 6:00 a.m.? MR. JOHNSON: No, excuse me -- 6:00 p.m. Sarajevo time. Forgive me. Ambassador Holbrooke has characterized that meeting as a useful one, and he also told us that President Izetbegovic and Foreign Minister Sacirbey had passed on their condolences to the American people and the American Government concerning the deaths. The party was planning to depart Sarajevo this afternoon and begin their journey home. It's my understanding that the weather at the Sarajevo airport was such that it was not wise to continue that journey home today. For that reason, the injured are currently in the French field hospital at the Sarajevo airport and the rest of the delegation is returning to Sarajevo to overnight and begin their journey home tomorrow. For reasons related to logistics and operational security, I'm not going to be able to go into when they are planning to return home nor the route that they plan to take. At this point, we do not anticipate an arrival in Washington at least until late tomorrow and probably on Monday. Q You said they were depart late today. You meant tonight, their time? MR. JOHNSON: They had planned to depart late -- Q They had planned to leave Sarajevo during nightfall? MR. JOHNSON: At about nightfall. Q At about nightfall? Even though it's been raining and everything, and miserable, they were going to leave? MR. JOHNSON: They were going to leave if it was safe to do so. It turned out to not be safe to do so, so they are overnighting. Q You made no mention of a mine. Is that out of it now? MR. JOHNSON: Earlier reports indicated that there may have been a mine that may have caused an explosion. It's our understanding now, although the investigation may not be complete, that there was no mine. This was an accident which occurred because part of the road gave way and this vehicle rolled over several times. Q Are you ready for questions? MR. JOHNSON: I want to go over a couple more things. Q I interrupted you. I'm sorry. MR. JOHNSON: That's okay. I want to tell you a little bit about the timing of the way things went this morning. The National Security Advisor, Mr. Lake, informed the President of this accident at about 9:15 in the morning Eastern Daylight Time. That would be 7:15 in Wyoming. The Secretary was informed by Acting Secretary Talbott at about 7:00 a.m. Washington time. That's 4:00 Pacific Daylight Time where the Secretary is currently residing. The President, since that initial conversation, has spoken twice to the Secretary and twice to Ambassador Holbrooke and General Clark. There have been many other conversations that have taken place between the Secretary and the Acting Secretary as well as between the President and his National Security Advisor. I want to emphasize, before we go on to questions, that our effort to find a durable, peaceful solution to the conflict in the Balkans will continue. Barry? Q David, apart from the effort and quoting from scripture and all -- and, of course, nobody would question trying to bring about peace is a virtuous thing to do -- a reasonable question is to ask, "Is this effort succeeding?" -- this obviously risky effort, this time-consuming effort, this 4-year long effort." All week long we have been given no indication of any accomplishments -- words like, "useful, frank, candid." Also the talks with Milosevic were described as -- MR. JOHNSON: Inconclusive. Q Inconclusive. With all due respect, I would like to ask, apart from the virtue of peacemaking, had they -- these three people are dead now and others are injured -- had they accomplished anything in this mission? MR. JOHNSON: We believe that the effort -- which began, in terms of our contacts with people in Europe, with the trip of Mr. Lake and Mr. Tarnoff where we met with our partners and allies and then the follow-up trip to that where we met with the parties to the conflict, that team led by Ambassador Holbrooke which had a tragic incident today -- has resulted in moving the process forward. As I've said over the last several days, we're talking about concepts and ideas. We're basing those concepts and ideas on the Contact Group map and plan. We continue to believe that the most productive way to pursue this diplomacy is by dealing with the parties and trying to come up with a durable solution to this conflict at the negotiating table. But, at the same time, we think that the way to preserve the best prospect for peace is to have those negotiations directly with them and not through the press. Q Will Holbrooke accompany the three bodies back to Washington? MR. JOHNSON: My understanding is that we should expect that to take place. The logistics and all of the various travels are not ironed out. I think we're in the midst of putting those logistical arrangements together. So that's impossible to say for sure. I'm not going to give you anything firm on that, but I would anticipate that to happen. Q Does this mean that the Contact Group meeting you talked about last week will not take place in Europe this coming week? MR. JOHNSON: It could take place before the end of the week. But I think at this point it's hard to describe a timetable for you for Ambassador Holbrooke's return to Europe. Karen? Q Does the State Department feel the Bosnian Serbs bear any complicity in this accident given that there is no other land route available into Sarajevo? MR. JOHNSON: It certainly would have been more convenient to go a different route. I'm not here to draw conclusions or point fingers for you. It would have been better if we could have come in by air, of course, into a functioning airport. But I think right now our effort is not to draw those kinds of conclusions but to try to find ways to get the parties to the negotiating table and to find a peaceful and durable solution to this conflict. Tom? Q A follow-up on that question. Were they guaranteed safe passage by the Bosnian Serbs for this route? Also, two other additional questions. How deep was the ravine, and was it the fall into the ravine that apparently killed them? MR. JOHNSON: On the question of whether they were guaranteed safe passage, we had no indication that there would be any problem concerning passage through that routing. It's my understanding that the Bosnian Government controls that route, so a safe passage from the Bosnian Serbs may not have been an issue. I'll look into that and see if I can get you something firmer. I do not know whether it was the rollover of the vehicle, the depth of its fall, any type of impact or fire that caused the deaths of these individuals. It's just a bit too early to get a final determination on that. Q Could tell you us how long the airport has been closed and why? MR. JOHNSON: The airport has been closed -- I'll find out. I don't have that off the top of my head. It has been closed by the Bosnian Serbs, is my understanding. Q It was too dangerous? Q How is Holbrooke flying out of there? MR. JOHNSON: Helicopter. Q You made the point in the statements you read about the critical role that these three men played in the shaping and the selling of this peace plan. What effect do you expect the loss of them to have on the shaping and selling of the peace plan? MR. JOHNSON: It's certainly going to make it more difficult to carry on our diplomacy. These individuals were instrumental not just in helping us put this together and advising the President and the Secretary of State and others, but they were also instrumental in going out and dealing with the individuals on the ground there and helping them understand what the benefits to peace were, what the detriments of continuing this conflict were. There's no point in saying that it will have no effect whatsoever. It will have a real effect. They had personal ties in the region; they had personal relationships with the individuals who were parties to the conflict. But we are determined to carry on with their work and to have others carry their work forward. Q Have you figured out the personnel and the staffing? MR. JOHNSON: I think it's a bit early for that. Q I want to make sure I understand something. You said that the party had been planning to leave Sarajevo after their meetings today. That means that the trip would not have included discussions with the Bosnian Serbs? MR. JOHNSON: The timeframe I was referring to was post-accident. After that accident occurred, they made plans to move on out this evening. But not being able to do so, they've gone back into town. I have declined over the last several days to forecast their onward itinerary each and every day. I didn't mean to signal anything unusual there. Q Have U.S. Government personnel been lost in Bosnia before this accident? MR. JOHNSON: These are the first official Americans who have been killed in the Bosnian conflict. There have been a number of dual- nationals and I believe several humanitarian workers who are American citizens who have been killed and injured in this conflict. But these were the first official Americans who died. Steve? Q Was any business transacted at today's meeting between Holbrooke and Izetbegovic? MR. JOHNSON: It was a very brief meeting. I believe that they had some moments to talk a bit about how determined we were to push forward. I don't know the degree of their exchange and how much business, as you say, they were able to transact before the meeting was over. Q Do you know who made the decision to go ahead with the meeting in Sarajevo after the crash? Was that locally made by Holbrooke, or did they make that back in Washington or Jackson Hole? MR. JOHNSON: I'm unaware of it really being an issue. I believe that due to the timing of needing to get some initial treatment for the injured and to make arrangements to depart there was certainly time for this meeting. I believe that President Izetbegovic and Foreign Minister Sacirbey wanted to hold at least a brief meeting in order to pass on to the American people and government their condolences on the death of these American diplomats. Betsy? Q Do you know where -- can you give us some idea of where on the road this actually happened? Were they leaving from Zagreb? Where did they stay last night? MR. JOHNSON: They left from Split. Q Do you know how long a drive it normally is? MR. JOHNSON: I do not. I'll see if during the course of the afternoon we might be able to get some mapping for you, but at this point I don't have anything. Q So they were on the main Mt. Igman road? MR. JOHNSON: They were on the Mt. Igman road, headed into Sarajevo. Q Have we heard from any of the other participants in these talks that have been going on now for a week? MR. JOHNSON: Since the accident? Q Yes. MR. JOHNSON: We may have. I do not know. I would hesitate to say that we hadn't because there may have been condolences messages or other messages received that I'm unaware of. Q David, the earlier accounts, which included the possibility of a mine, said that the vehicle burst into flames. Do you know if that's true? MR. JOHNSON: I believe, but I'm not certain, that it is true. Of course, it's a vehicle that's powered by an internal combustion engine, so it had fuel and other things on board which were flammable. So it certainly wouldn't have required any type external munition to ignite it. Q Thank you. MR. JOHNSON: Thank you. (The special briefing concluded at 3:30 p.m.) (###)To the top of this page