U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Europe and Canada Bureau

U.S. Department of State
95/10/12 Asst. Sec. Holbrooke on Bosnia-Herzegovina
Office of the Spokesman

Office of the Spokesman



Washington, D.C.
October 12, 1995

MR BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome back to the State Department briefing. This will be an ON-THE-RECORD session with Richard Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs on Bosnia.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: Thank you, Nick. I'll just take your questions after the briefest opening remarks only on our travel schedule.

The negotiating delegation will go to Paris Sunday, meet in Paris with French and other NATO officials, and then Monday afternoon, we'll fly to Moscow for a Contact Group meeting to be hosted by the Russians.

On Tuesday morning, we'll have a Contact Group meeting and I'm told the Russians want to have a press conference Tuesday at lunch time.

Tuesday afternoon, Strobe Talbott, Walt Slocombe and other American officials will join us, flying in from the States, to continue to discuss with the Russians the issues that Secretary Perry and Russian Defense Minister Grachev and others discussed in Geneva last Saturday.

I will join those talks while other members of our delegation will peel off and continue talks on the Bosnia settlement Tuesday afternoon.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the delegation will fly to Belgrade. Strobe, Walt Slocombe and company will remain in Moscow Wednesday to continue their discussions.

We will meet with Milosevic. Then we will fly to Sarajevo and Zagreb. For the usual reasons of security, we'll give you the details later. And then do one round with Presidents Izetbegovic, Tudjman and Milosevic and return to the States at the end of next week in preparation for the beginning of the talks on October 3lst at what I guess we can call "Site X."

A site search team under the leadership of Assistant Secretary of State Pat Kennedy has begun its work. We don't have anything on that yet except that it will be in the -- well, it will be in this time zone, I think. (Laughter.)

I regret to say, but it is seriously true, there will not be a press briefing. There will not be press access. This is not what we are going to do. The object is to get a peace agreement, or as close to it as we can. We want results, and daily briefings are not compatible with that goal.

We reserve the right for interim statements or announcements during the talks; and there may be the usual leaks, but do not expect access to the site. We will actively discourage leaks. All three countries have told us that they will not speak to the press on a regular basis.

So we are not just talking here about the United States and our Contact Group people, and we will not surprise you if we have something to announce on an interim basis. We will give you a good chance to do it and maybe we will do it out of Washington rather than out of "Site X", wherever that is.

But I understand your needs very well, and I hope you understand ours. It's going to be a very difficult negotiation.

Q Any TV talk show scheduled? Is there one?


Q Yeah. Will any of the principals, you or others, in this period appear on Sunday talk shows or on MacNeil/Lehrer? Or will there be a news black-out entirely?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: We are not going to appear on Sunday talk shows. Okay.

Q Can we go to questions, real questions?


Q All right. Could you sketch out --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: I thought that was a real question, (laughter) with a certain edge to it, I thought. (Laughter.)

Q Don't be sensitive to that. Most news here is disseminated by TV talk shows. People you can't reach by telephone rush to TV studios. Let's go ahead.


Q These Proximity Talks, would you kindly sketch out and to the detail to the extent you can, the details to the extent you can, how this will be operated? I really mean details.


Q I mean, who is coming? Will you have them separately housed? Will they ever meet together? Some of us have been to Camp David. We know what the President did successfully. How will this be done?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: I can give you an ideal site, Barry, but I don't know what the actual site will be like.

Q Well, without the site, you don't have that yet.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: Well, we have coming to "Site X" three Presidents, of Serbia representing a joint Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Bosnian-Serb delegation, Slobodan Milosevic and his delegation; President Izetbegovic from the Republic of Bosnia- Herzegovina and his delegation; and President Tudjman and his delegation.

The first two presidents will stay -- they have both agreed not to threaten to leave and not to issue time ultimatums. President Tudjman may or may not stay the whole time. He is an important participant and his support is essential, but he may not need to be there. If we get slogging through territorial or constitutional issues, he might leave his foreign minister there and come back and forth. We all understand that.

We would prefer that they are housed separately and in equal villas -- separate but equal villas. It may turn out that we use a site which is a single large building with separate wings or separate floors. I just don't know. You all know the history of the phrase "proximity talks." It stems from 1947-48, and in those proximity talks, the Arabs and the Israelis never met face-to-face, although they were both in the same hotel in New York.

That is not our version of proximity talks. The analogy you made earlier has some applicability here. I can foresee situations in which two of the presidents might meet, on which a foreign minister of one might go and meet with the president of another, or that you have American and other Contact Group representatives running from point-to- point.

This is peace, piecemeal, step-by-step. We know where we want to go, but we really don't have a play-by-play game plan for this.

Q Let me just follow you on the last point. I thought the whole crux of the operation was to have the Americans mobile and moving among these three. That's still true.


Q Yeah. You mentioned the last, but it's the working formula.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: There is a very revealing sentence in this morning's newspapers. I think it's in The New York Times account of today's cease-fire where it describes Antonio Pedauye running from Muratovic to Buha back and forth on yesterday's final certification of cease-fire. If the parties don't want to meet in the same room, they don't have to yet -- yet.

Q Are you prepared to keep the talks going?


Q One month, two months, forever?


Q Dick, thanks to your tireless efforts, I believe though there is unfinished in the Sanski Most area -- there is still some offensive activity, the Serbs are complaining that the Muslims are still trying to take that village, and I believe the Muslims are complaining about the expulsion of refugees there. Do you think that that particular problem will soon be healed?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: The fighting is dying down. It appears from the reports, and your information is the same as ours from the same sources, that we don't have l00 percent cease-fire conditions right now. Both sides however have signed on. We are monitoring these activities very carefully.

The United Nations have said they are dying down, if I am not mistaken, Nick. We do not have independent verification on the ground in the region and we will check it carefully.

As for the questions of expulsions and the charges of massacres, and particularly in the Banja Luka area, which have been very well reported by several newspapers recently, this is a matter of the utmost concern to us.

There is a possibility that an atrocity of substantial dimensions has taken place again recently. There have been charges. We are seeking confirmation, but we are not simply waiting for confirmation to take action.

I raised this point the last three times I met with President Milosevic, with specific reference to the activities of a man who calls himself Arkan, and who is nothing more than a common criminal with a paramilitary operation, which is also operating in Eastern Slavonia.

We are extremely concerned about this. Our Charge d'Affaires in Belgrade, Rudy Perina, has been in to the government at high levels -- either the Foreign Minister or President Milosevic -- twice in the last two days, and I am currently drafting a personal message to Belgrade on the same subject.

I will not go into the details of Milosevic's reply, because we're in the middle of a serious discussion on this issue.

Q This seems to be predicated on the 60-day cease-fire -- the negotiations. Is it realistic to think that the negotiations can be completed --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: That's not that it said. It said 60 days or until the talks are completed.

Q No, not the talks, but the cease-fire.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: No. The cease-fire will last 60 days or until the peace talks are completed. That was a subject -- let me tell you. We hammered that sentence out, and the United States and our delegation would not agree to sponsor or back the cease-fire until those additional phrases were added.

Q Is the American delegation going to show up with a de facto, complete proposed constitution for the federation, or whatever it is?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: The Bosnian Government has asked the European Union representative, Carl Bildt, and the United States to assist them in drafting or revising the constitution to make it compatible with Council of Europe standards.

So the short answer to your question is we're not going to come in and say, "Here's your constitution," but we are working with them on constitutional issues, and we have a backup constitutional legal team that has already been formed and which we're augmenting right now to address that issue.

When I said earlier that we'd split up in Moscow next Tuesday, one group -- Strobe and myself and Slocombe -- will do the NATO implementation. The other group -- Bob Owen and Chris Hill and Carl Bildt -- will work on that issue.

Q Could I just finish that. Is that going to be a necessary part of the peace agreement, that there will be a completed constitution, signed and --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: Don't hold me to the word "completed and signed." But the answer is -- and anyone with experience in this area knows this -- what isn't agreed to in this process is likely to become the subject of hot disputes later. So we want to do as much as we can.

But we've been operating on the principle that you do what you can and kick down the road the things you can't quite do yet. This is why I was elusive to your question earlier on we want results. I'm not going to define now how much we can get out of these Proximity Peace Talks or out of the conference that will follow in Paris.

You all know what our goal is. We're going to go as far as we can in an area with a very bad history.

Q Dick, how much danger is there that atrocities or cease-fire violations will derail this process? I guess the question I'm asking is, can you talk while people are discovering atrocities and while cease- fire violations are taking place?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: You sure can, and I was thinking about that as I came into the Department just now, assuming you'd ask that question. My answer is very clear: What has happened makes it all the more important that we have peace talks going on, not simply to uncover the truth about what's happened already -- the truth which I think will be the worst story in Europe since 1945 -- but also to prevent it from continuing or recurring.


Q Taking the optimistic view and assuming you succeed in all of this, can you talk a little bit about what you hope to achieve in Moscow next week? How you see the differences and what you think a solution to the differences on peace implementation --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: You're talking about the optimistic view about the talks?

Q Yes. I mean, just moving beyond whether you get a peace to what do you want to do in Moscow next week?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: I'm not terribly optimistic yet. It's a daunting, daunting challenge that faces the United States and the other countries in the Contact Group. But if there is a peace settlement, it will require American participation.

Let me put it another way. There will be no peace settlement without American participation, and there will be no American participation without a peace settlement. Therefore, in preparation for a peace settlement -- no matter how difficult it's going to be -- we have started a very large planning exercise, certainly the largest in NATO's history.

For the first time ever, it includes components not only for Russia but for other non-NATO countries. The Desert Storm operation was not under NATO auspices. This will, of course, not be remotely as large as Desert Storm with its five, six hundred thousand people.

But the goal in Moscow is to continue the Perry-Grachev talks and to define with the Russians and appropriate role for them in implementation.

Q Part of your job is also to worry about NATO expansion. Are you concerned that the way the Russians are perceiving the treatment they're getting from NATO on peace implementation will only further alienate them and make them suspicious regarding NATO in the future?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: The reason I kept you waiting was that I was at lunch with Secretary Perry and some of his colleagues and Strobe Talbott and Sandy Berger. He was describing to us his talks with Grachev, and I don't think he would share that judgment that you just gave, Tim.

The Russians have come in with opening positions. We have responded with ours. We're continuing the talks. We see a real value in Russian participation and implementation. So, I might add, do all the parties in the region, provided that participation is within a framework which makes sense. That framework remains to be defined, and I do not want to go into too many details now, because it's a work in progress and also because I wasn't in Geneva with Secretary Perry, and I don't have all the details in my head yet.

Q You said at the top that both -- talking about, I assume, President Izetbegovic and President Milosevic -- have agreed not to threaten to leave or issue time ultimatums. Could you expand on that a little bit, what they guarantee --


Q So what you're saying, then, is there will be none of this sort of posturing -- Camp David posturing, packing a bag and leaving. They're committed, the two Presidents --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: I didn't say there won't be any. I'm just telling you what they agreed to. (Laughter)

Q Okay. So they've agreed to stay as long as you want them to stay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: My statement speaks for itself. I'm not going to go any further. I'm a realist about this.


Q What leverage does the U.S. have on the parties to obey the cease-fire?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: It depends. There's one point I ought to make clear. The NATO air option is still a viable option. If there was in the next few days or weeks a flagrant violation of the agreements on -- let's take a worst case. Let's say somebody lobs a mortar into Sarajevo and people are killed again. The NATO response -- the United States will take swift action to move for the appropriate NATO response. We have not given up that option.

That doesn't cover every contingency in your question, but it covers the big ones.

Q The example you gave -- what would that violate?


Q Obviously, it's not -- it's an indecent thing to do, but what is your legal basis for retaliating for someone lobbing a shell?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: The rules worked out at the London Conference, the NAC meetings -- the authorities sub-contracted to Admiral Smith and General Smith, the same things that triggered the NATO action starting in late August.

Q Well, the NATO actions were triggered by the exclusion zone being violated. You had a specific violation.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: That's correct, and I'm saying --

Q It's a violation of the rule?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: No, I'm saying -- I'm responding to David's question by saying that if there were some flagrant act -- I understood you to ask what our leverage is --

Q What's your leverage, and the reason I'm asking -- I'm not asking how are you going to enforce the U.N. exclusion zones. I understand you're going to do that, and lobbing a shell into Sarajevo violates those rules. I'm asking what leverage do you have to enforce the country-wide cease-fire -- leverage not only the Serbs but also on the other parties?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: We have a variety of ways to respond, including military in an extreme case, which are all still there. But in the end, if the two sides want to go on fighting and violate the cease-fire they both agreed to, in certain areas of the country it would be impossible for the U.N. or the United States to stop it, just as we have in the past.

We have the impression that's not going to happen in a large-scale way. But I'm not going to stand here today and say it won't happen. The history of the region is replete with failed cease-fires.

What's different about this cease-fire? Answer: It is linked directly to discussions under American and Contact Group auspices of the three Presidents in the United States, and that linkage is central.


Q Speaking of other parties, can you say -- what's your assessment of the performance of Croatian armed forces and the Croatian Government in the past month and their proxies in Bosnia, and what lessons would you draw from that about Croatia's commitment to the future of Bosnia?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: That's a very difficult question to answer. All I can say is that there have been widespread reports of excesses by the Croatian forces and by the Bosnian Croat forces. Assistant Secretary Shattuck went out there. He can speak for the State Department in detail. He went into the West. He went right up to the front lines.

I did not make that trip or have time for it. I think maybe you might want to talk to him.

In addition, I would say that we have had very serious private talks with President Tudjman.

Q From your talks with President Milosevic, how on-board are the Bosnian Serbs at this point to let the Serbs negotiate for them? Exactly what does that mean if they've given --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: President Milosevic has in his hands what we call for shorthand purposes, the "Patriarch Paper." It sounds like a Ludlum novel. This is a document he produced in late August, signed by Karadzic, Krajisnik, Mladic, Buha and two or three other -- Koljevic and two or three other Bosnian Serbs; plus himself, the President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the President of Montenegro, his own Foreign Minister.

It said flatly that a six-person delegation would represent the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and, to use their phrase, Republic of Srpska. There would be three from each side. It would be headed by Slobodan Milosevic who, incidentally, is the President of Serbia, not the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and in the case of a tie he would cast the deciding vote.

It was witnessed by the Patriarch of Yugoslavia and by the Bishop of Vojvodina, hence its nickname. That document, which at the time we called in public an important procedural breakthrough, was far more important than that. It ended 16 months of arguments over your question -- who talks for Pale -- and the answer turned out Slobodan Milosevic.

If that document holds, a delegation headed by President Milosevic will be able to negotiate for both sides. If it is repudiated by Pale, we're not going to have a peace settlement. We're going to have continued war, and the loser in that war will be Pale, which is getting steadily weaker anyway, and is going to be then completely isolated. So it's up to Pale to decide.


Q The agreement you had last week that seemed to be rather fuzzy -- some seven points or eight points about Eastern Slavonia between the Croatians and --


Q Eleven. Has that been finalized in any way, or has it been thrown back into the pot to be stirred up in the larger peace talks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: There was perhaps a slight misunderstanding on this document, which I might as well try to clear up. This was a document drafted by our Ambassador in Zagreb, Peter Galbraith, and by the U.N. negotiator, Thorvald Stoltenberg. It was agreed to passively by the Eastern Slavonia Serbs in the locality, headed by the mayors of the five towns, and by the Government in Zagreb -- passively. They didn't sign it.

It was issued by the United States as a set of guiding principles. It was an important step forward. Both Milosevic and Tudjman described it that way. But it was very limited, and it was fairly vague. However, it did start a process.

The next step was to have a meeting at the American Embassy in Zagreb, which took place Monday. The reason it was going to be in the Embassy was that it would be on American soil. But then they were supposed to move from the Embassy to a hotel a block away for lunch, and at that point, the Balkans being what they are, the Serbs said that they wouldn't go and meet on Croatian soil. The Croatians said they weren't going to eat in the Embassy, and they had to adjourn over the major issue of where you have lunch.

So then we went back to the drawing boards, and we set up new meetings in the region, and it's unfolding. It's very slow. The point of telling you this story is to stress the importance of Eastern Slavonia. It overshadows and could undermine the talks. It's only two percent of Croatia and a fraction of the overall land in the region, but without Slavonia being settled, it would be hard to get an overall settlement.

Q Do you think the Bosnian Serbs are as committed to the cease- fire as is Milosevic, and will he continue to be able to exert strong influence over their behavior while he's in the United States?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: I have no way of answering your question directly. I can give you an intuitive answer, but since we have to negotiate, I will just leave it to you to come up with your own answers. I'll say only this.

A week ago today in Belgrade, that piece of paper was signed by Karadzic, Krajisnik and Mladic, and then witnessed by President Milosevic. They signed it. It was very specific. Gorazde has to be open to all civilian traffic over two roads -- Rogatica and the Belgrade- Gorazde road.

The cease-fire should go into effect. The gas and electricity have to be restored, etc., etc. If the Bosnian Serbs, who are the opposing army on the ground decide not to implement this or quibble with it, which I think is very possible -- I think they'll be testing in the next 19 days as we do the run-up to the talks -- if that happens, we'll deal with it, and I suspect we'll have several testings over the next three weeks, and I suspect you all will be reporting challenges to the paper, and the United States is prepared to deal with those.

MR. BURNS: We have time for one more question.

Q Until recently, U.S. officials were talking about in the event of peace, having as many as 25,000 American troops in this implementation force. More recently it sounds as if the number is smaller.


Q The question is, is that correct? How many troops does the current plan call for the U.S. to give?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HOLBROOKE: Let me tell you the status of this issue, because this is again the reason that I was delayed getting over here. We discussed this. We are now in the planning process, which, as you know, involves the United States -- which is several different agencies and Departments -- NATO, which involves 15 other countries, and non-NATO countries, ranging from Sweden to Pakistan and perhaps including Russia that are ready to participate.

So we don't know the exact configuration or size of the future IFOR. We have time to work this out. As for the American component, the final answer is going to depend on the answer to the first question. So when you hear these different numbers, what you're really hearing is guesstimates, and I just don't think it's productive at this point to add my guess to the others.

That's something for the military to work out within parameters established by the civilians. We haven't seen a clear-cut answer to your question at a definitive level yet. It is under very intense discussion.

Finally, we've had intense discussions with the Congress. Secretary Perry and several other people, including myself, had breakfast this morning with Senator Stevens and his congressional delegation, which will leave tonight for the region and will be the highest level and most important congressional delegation to visit the region since the war began.

They made the point, as if it needed emphasizing, that they have a say in this, including signing the check. So this will be a process. But the one thing I do want to stress is my answer earlier to a question -- I think it may have been Tim's -- that there will not be a peace without an American participation in a NATO force, and there will not be American participation in a NATO force without a full peace settlement.

MR. BURNS: Thank you very much.


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