Clinton: NATO must stop Milosevic's atrocities against Kosovo
Chinese president now ready to talk to Clinton
May 13, 1999
Web posted at: 1:22 p.m. EDT (1722 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 13) -- Delivering a scathing condemnation of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's "brutal scheme" in Kosovo, President Bill Clinton gave an impassioned speech Thursday justifying U.S. involvement in NATO strikes against Serbian targets as the nation's moral duty and in its strategic interests.
Also Thursday, CNN learned that Chinese President Jiang Zemin is now ready to accept a phone call from Clinton about NATO's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.
President Clinton spoke Thursday on the Kosovo campaign
That word came after Clinton met with China's ambassador to the United States, Li Zhauxing, at the White House. It was Clinton's first face-to-face meeting with a Chinese official since the weekend bombing. During their meeting, Clinton signed the Chinese embassy's condolence book for the three Chinese journalists killed in the bombing.
The president has publicly apologized for the bombing and sent a diplomatic note to Jiang, saying he is prepared to discuss the matter with him over the phone. But until now, the Chinese have refused to take the call.
The bombing of the Chinese embassy and Russian diplomatic efforts have dominated the news recently and Clinton wanted his speech to refocus attention on why the U.S. became involved in the conflict in the first place.
Detailing the administration's claim of a Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing, Clinton compared Milosevic's actions to those of Adolf Hitler during the Holocaust.
"Though his ethnic cleansing is not the same as the ethnic extermination of the Holocaust, the two are related; both vicious, premeditated, systematic oppression fueled by religious and ethnic hatred," Clinton told a group of 200 Veterans of Foreign Wars members at the National Defense University at Fort McNair.
Urging Americans to remember "the real victims" of the Balkans crisis, the U.S. president tried to put a human face on the far-away war by telling gripping stories of alleged atrocities against Kosovar Albanians by Yugoslav paramilitary troops.
Of the 1.7 million Albanian citizens of Kosovo, 900,000 have fled to refugee camps while another 600,000 are likely "trapped" within Kosovo "lacking shelter, short of food, afraid to go home," according to Clinton.
"Or they are buried in mass graves dug by their executioners," he added.
While retelling first-hand accounts of mass killings, particularly of Albania men, the president alleged that Serb military crimes extended even further: "Serb forces, their faces often concealed by masks, as they were before in Bosnia, have rounded up Kosovar women and repeatedly raped them. They have said to children: Go into the woods and die of hunger."
And Clinton placed the blame for all of the horror squarely on Milosevic's shoulders.
"All this has been carried out, you must understand, according to a plan carefully designed months earlier in Belgrade. Serb officials pre-positioned forces, tanks and fuel and mapped out the sequence of attacks," Clinton said.
Later he said, "You do not have systematic slaughter in an effort to eradicate the religion, the culture, the heritage, the very record of presence of a people in any area unless some politician thinks it is in his interest to foment that sort of hatred. That's how these things happen."
The visibly emotional Clinton flatly rejected the argument that the U.S. should not intervene to stop such atrocities because the religious and ethnic conflict in the Balkans is inevitable.
"We do no favors to ourselves or to the rest of the world when we justify looking away from this kind of slaughter by oversimplifying and conveniently, in our own way, demonizing the whole Balkans by saying that these people are simply incapable of civilized behavior with one another," Clinton insisted.
And until NATO demands are met, allowing the Kosovar Albanians to return safely to their homes, the strikes would continue and intensify, Clinton vowed. Not only is the right thing to do, he said, but the practical one -- a stable Europe is in the strategic interests of the United States.
"This is the right vision and the right course. It is not only the morally right thing for America, it is the right thing for our security interests over the long run. It is the vision for which the veterans in this room struggled so valiantly, for which so many others have given their lives," he concluded.