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President Clinton's Announcement (12/18/97)

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Clinton Wants Extended U.S. Role In Bosnia

The president faces some skepticism in Congress over an open-ended commitment


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Dec. 18) -- President Bill Clinton said today he wants U.S. troops to remain a part of a multinational peacekeeping force in Bosnia after their scheduled June departure. (480K wav sound)

Without providing specifics on either the number of troops or the expected duration of their extended mission, Clinton said NATO has made substantial progress in restoring normal life in Bosnia, but the job isn't done yet. (448K wav sound)

Clinton announces future troop presence in Bosnia
in streaming video

"The progress is unmistakable, but it is not yet universal," Clinton told reporters. Bosnia still needs "a safety net and a helping hand," he said.

Clinton said he accepts the need for continued U.S. troops "in principle," but won't make it official until allies agree on an action plan -- expected early next year -- that lays out the size of the force and the mission's duration. (384K wav sound)

About 8,500 U.S. troops are stationed in Bosnia as part of a NATO-led force of 30,000, working to enforce the 1995 Dayton peace accords and prevent a recurrence of the region's bloody, four-year civil war.

Clinton said he hopes the follow-on U.S. force can be smaller, but it must be large enough to achieve its goals and protect itself. If the U.S. pulls out before the job is done, he said, Bosnia could fall back into violence and chaos. (352K wav sound)

Clinton pointed to substantial progress since the war ended, and said the U.S. needs to boost its efforts at economic revitalization. But he said that can't happen without the secure environment provided by a military force. "America is a leader of NATO and America should participate in that force," he said.

One condition for continued U.S. participation, he said, is "substantial support" from Congress and the American people. (384K wav sound)

This will be the second extension of U.S. participation, and could bring renewed congressional criticism that the U.S. is becoming too deeply embroiled in the conflict. Troops originally were going to stay for a year and leave in 1996, but Clinton extended U.S. participation through June 1998.

Clinton admitted it was a mistake last year for him to promise a complete withdrawal by June 1998.

"I honestly believed that in 18 months we could get this done," Clinton said. "I wasn't right, so I don't want to make that error again."

Clinton and some members of Congress are scheduled to fly to Bosnia on Sunday night on a one-day visit to U.S. troops.

Some skepticism in Congress

Even before the president's announcement, some members of Congress expressed skepticism about an open-ended U.S. commitment.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a member of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, said, "We've been in Bosnia a good long time already ... I want to see what an extension will do."

At a year-end news conference on Monday, Clinton said the peacekeeping effort needed to continue, but declined to talk specifically about future U.S. involvement or what the U.S. wants from European nations. (544K wav sound)

"We have been involved for the last several weeks in a whole series of intense meetings about the situation in Bosnia, where we are and what progress has been made," Clinton said then.

"And let me point out that after four years of the bloodiest war in Europe since World War II, we've had 23 months of peace. It's easy to focus on the problems, but there has been peace. There has been a restoration of significant economic activity. A lot of the facilities, the water systems, the sewer systems, the schools have been rebuilt. Housing units have been rebuilt. We've had elections and the beginning of a resurgence of democratic processes. (480K wav sound)

"So with all the continuing difficulties, there has been, in my view, a significant amount of progress in the last 23 months, of which the American people can be justly proud. (352K wav sound)

"And indeed, all of our allies in NATO and beyond NATO, and Russia and the other countries that are participating, can be proud of that.

"We are discussing now actively both within the administration, with our allies in NATO and our other allies and with Congress what should be done after the June date for the expiration of SFOR [the NATO mission]," Clinton said then.

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