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

U.S. Department of State
95/11/01 Statement: Balkan Proximity Peace Talks
Office of the Spokesman

Office of the Spokesman

(Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio)
For Immediate Release             November 1, 1995


Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
November 1, 1995

Good afternoon. President Izetbegovic, President Tudjman, President Milosevic, Prime Minister Bildt, Deputy Minister Ivanov, honored colleagues: on behalf of President Clinton and the American people, I welcome you to the United States for the start of these historic proximity peace talks. My special thanks go to the people of Dayton, Ohio and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for their magnificent support.

We have an urgent and important purpose today. We are here to give Bosnia-Herzegovina a chance to be a country at peace, not a killing field -- a place where people can sleep in their homes, walk to work, and worship in their churches, mosques, and synagogues without fear of violence or death. We are here to prevent a wider war that would undermine the security of Europe at a time when the whole continent should finally be at peace.

The talks that begin here today offer the best chance to achieve peace since this war began four years ago. If we fail, the war will resume, and future generations will surely hold us accountable for the consequences that would follow. The lights so recently lit in Sarajevo would once again be extinguished. Death and starvation would once again spread across the Balkans, threatening to engulf the region and possibly Europe itself.

To the three Presidents, I say that it is within your power to chart a better future for the people of the former Yugoslavia. The United States, the European Union, Russia, and others in the international community will help you succeed. But while the world can and will help you make peace, only you can ensure that this process will succeed. And you must begin today.

As President Clinton said yesterday, the "whole world is watching." We must persevere until an agreement is reached and the promise of this hopeful moment is fulfilled.

There are some who say these talks can only end in failure. They have written off the Balkans as a region cursed by its past to a future of endless hatred and retribution. I have heard those arguments before -- in the Middle East, where Arabs and Israelis are now ending an armed conflict that has lasted ten times as long as the one in the former Yugoslavia. I have heard the same arguments applied to Northern Ireland, where a centuries-old conflict may be nearing resolution. I have heard them applied to South Africa, where former enemies have abandoned apartheid to build a multi-ethnic democracy. I know that negotiations can work when people have the courage and patience to make them work.

We have reached this moment because the international community took firm measures to enforce its mandate in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and because for the first time, all sides have agreed to a cease-fire, to constitutional principles, and to a common set of institutions for a single Bosnian state. We must all resolve to stay on the path that brought us here. For each of us, the stakes are enormous.

For the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whatever their heritage, the success of our efforts can mean an end to the killing and the beginning of hope for a normal life. The people of Bosnia deserve a chance to live as they once did -- in harmony with their neighbors in a country at peace.

For the nations at war, the stakes are clear as well. They have a choice between two futures -- a future of peace and integration, or a future of violence, poverty and isolation from Europe and the world. We must always remember: as this region is engulfed in flames and violence, a new Europe is being built around it. Some of the fastest growing economies in Europe today are found in this region. The new democracies of Central Europe are resolving disputes with their neighbors and earning the right to be considered for membership in NATO and the European Union.

When the Cold War ended, nobody imagined that once vibrant cities like Sarajevo, Mostar, and Vukovar would be set so tragically apart from Europe by the sight of tanks and the sound of gunfire. The door to Europe and the West is still open to the nations of the region, if you end this war peacefully and respect the human rights of your people. You alone can choose your destiny.

The United States and the international community also have a vital stake in sustaining progress toward peace. If war in the Balkans is reignited, it could spark a wider conflict, like those that drew American soldiers in huge numbers into two European wars in this century.

If this conflict continues, and certainly if it spreads, it would jeopardize our efforts to promote stability and security in Europe as a whole. It would threaten the viability of NATO, which has been the bedrock of European security for 50 years.

If the conflict continues, so would the worst atrocities Europe has seen since World War II. As President Clinton has said, the "only way to stop these horrors is to make peace." We must and we will stay engaged to advance our interests and to uphold our values.

The United States and its Contact Group partners will make every effort to help you reach an agreement that will settle outstanding questions over territory, constitutional arrangements, elections and the return of refugees. We have worked hard to create the right atmosphere for progress at this site. And I know that Ambassador Holbrooke, Prime Minister Bildt, and Deputy Minister Ivanov will continue to provide the most effective and evenhanded mediation that is possible.

If peace is to endure, we must do more than separate the military forces. For peace to last, several key conditions must be met.

First, Bosnia-Herzegovina must continue as a single state within its internationally recognized borders, and with a single international personality. The principles to which the parties have agreed provide a firm foundation for achieving that goal.

Second, the settlement must take into account the special history and significance of Sarajevo and its environs. Sarajevo was the city where the first of this century's two bloody world wars began. But ten years ago, it was also the city where the world came together to celebrate the Olympics -- a city of many communities, living, working, and prospering together in peace. It must have a chance to become that wonderful city again. It deserves that chance.

Third, any agreement must guarantee that the human rights of all the citizens of the region are respected. This terrible war has uprooted people from every ethnic community. All must be able to return home or to receive just compensation. And it is vital that all those who have committed atrocities are held accountable. Full investigation of all such charges, regardless of where they occurred, must be undertaken swiftly and firmly. And responsibility must be assigned.

Finally, we also believe that these talks must establish a process of normalizing the status of Eastern Slavonia, as a part of Croatia and in a peaceful manner.

If and when a formal agreement is reached-- but only then-- the United States and its partners, including Russia, will provide military personnel to help implement the peace. NATO is the only organization with the resources and capacity to perform this task. It has already begun planning for a robust peace implementation force.

For each nation participating in the implementation force, deploying soldiers is a difficult and solemn choice. The American people and the United States Congress are asking serious and appropriate questions about U.S. participation in the Implementation Force. They will watch very closely for signs that the parties are finally ready to lay down their arms and to begin a lasting, stable peace.

The United States will not send troops where there is no peace to keep. Before we deploy, the parties must reach a peace agreement. They must be prepared to stick to it. They must use the time when our troops are on the ground to consolidate it. And the Implementation Force must have a clear exit strategy.

The international community is also determined to help the people of the region rebuild their institutions, their economies, and their lives. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will help to organize and supervise elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which ought to come at the earliest possible date, to ensure that they are free and fair. Under the leadership of the EU, a major effort to support the reconstruction of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be launched. Lasting security will depend on bringing the region's economy back to life.

In other words, once an agreement is signed, a multi-dimensional effort will begin to help ensure its success. It will be backed by soldiers, diplomats, bankers and engineers, by governments and by private organizations from countries around the world.

We know that Bosnia-Herzegovina will not easily recover from four years of ethnic cleansing and destruction. Nothing we do will erase our memory of the violence or bring back its victims.

But if we succeed, we can make it possible for the sons and daughters of those who have died to live without fear. If we succeed, we can ensure that the sons and daughters of America and Europe do not have to fight again in a larger, more terrible war. If we succeed, we may yet realize our vision of a Europe at peace, united, prosperous and free. We must rise to the challenge.

This will be a long journey. But it all starts here. Let us get to work, and let us reaffirm our pledge to make it work.


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