Clinton promises more strikes despite 'tragic mistake'
Cohen: Chinese Embassy bombing an 'institutional error'
May 10, 1999
"I apologize. I regret this," the president said before his remarks at the opening of a conference on youth violence in Washington.
Clinton said he had contacted Chinese President Jiang Zemin to offer condolences, but added that it was "important to draw a distinction between a tragic mistake and a deliberate act of ethnic cleansing."
"(The embassy bombing) was an isolated, tragic event while the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo ... is a deliberate and systematic crime," he said. "Until the NATO conditions are met, our campaign will continue."
At a U.N. Security Council meeting Monday evening, China pushed for a presidential statement strongly condemning the NATO bombing as a violation of international law.
Beijing also demanded a U.N. investigation of the attack and called on NATO to accept responsibility for the casualties and damage and bring those responsible to justice.
But with the United States, Britain, France and other NATO members opposed to any condemnation, the council couldn't agree on the Chinese text.
During a Pentagon briefing Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen indicated that people involved in the chain of errors that led to the embassy bombing might face disciplinary action.
"We are in the preliminary stages of this investigation. If there is culpability to be found, then we could consider appropriate action at that time," he said.
But Cohen also noted the tragedy was not caused by "a human error or a mechanical error. It was an institutional error."
Earlier Monday, China called for an "open and official" apology to the Chinese government, people and relatives of the three Chinese journalists killed in the attack.
Outdated maps blamed for bombing error
NATO bombers hit the embassy Saturday, killing three and injuring more than 20 people, six critically. U.S. officials said that faulty intelligence led them to believe the building was a Yugoslav military procurement directorate.
Cohen said the bombing instructions given to pilots came from a 1992 map that was reviewed in 1997 and again in 1998. However, none of the maps noted the new location of the Chinese Embassy; it relocated four years ago.
He said that from now on the State Department will report to the intelligence community whenever another country moves its embassy or builds a new one.
Cohen also said the intelligence community will strengthen procedures for developing target information, including those for updating maps. And the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency will speed up the process for updating critical databases for no-strike targets.
Thousands protest embassy bombing
The bombing spurred thousands of protesters to mob U.S. and British embassies and consulates in Beijing and other cities for three days, furious at what they saw as a deliberate attack on China.
Clinton sent a letter to Jiang on Sunday making clear the U.S. government's deep regret over the attack. NATO has also expressed its regrets for the bombing and the deaths of the Chinese citizens inside. But the Chinese media have largely ignored both the apologies and the contention that the bombing was an accident.
China's demands for an apology followed the suspension of talks on weapons proliferation, international security and human rights.
Cohen said he could understand China's "sense of frustration and rage right now."
"But I would hope that cooler heads would prevail, because we have much larger interests and long-term interests with the Chinese people and the Chinese government," he said.
Movie theaters in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing have suspended the showing of American films in response to the bombing. "Saving Private Ryan" and "Enemy of the State" are among the offerings affected by the ban.
"The current situation is not suitable for screening American films," said an official at the Shanghai Film Art Center.
Embassies under siege
In Beijing on Monday, hundreds of police in riot helmets ringed the U.S. Embassy to shield it from the protesters who surrounded the diplomatic mission.
U.S. Ambassador to China James Sasser, inside the embassy, said by phone that while he and his staff had been "essentially hostages," they were now able to move in and out of the building.
"We're surrounded by a cordon of police. Demonstrators have started arriving again this morning," Sasser told CNN. "The embassy building itself ... the structure has been damaged by (objects) thrown, in breaking windows, and Molotov cocktails that set at least two fires in the embassy last night and yesterday."
Monday's protests began smaller and were more organized than the previous days' violent demonstrations. Sasser said he and his staff felt "more secure" Monday.
The protests in China have been sanctioned by the government as long as they remain "legal." Many of the protesters believed the embassy was purposefully targeted and had not heard of U.S. and NATO apologies.
In the Yugoslav capital, hundreds of Chinese demonstrators were joined Sunday by Serbian sympathizers who denounced the NATO attack and called for an end to the war.
The U.S. State Department issued an advisory warning Americans to postpone travel to China "until the situation stabilizes." It also ordered its diplomats to stay home.
Diplomacy looks east
The attack on the Chinese Embassy complicated diplomatic efforts to end the crisis in Kosovo. Russian Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, who had just arrived back in Moscow carrying details of "new circumstances" from talks with European leaders during the week, headed to Beijing on Monday.
Chernomyrdin will continue consultations begun last week in Beijing by Sergei Prikhodko, the deputy head of the presidential administration.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, also preparing to travel to China on Tuesday, called for a full inquiry into the strike on the Chinese Embassy.
Schroeder has shortened his planned visit and narrowed its focus to the Yugoslav crisis.
A Bonn official said Germany viewed official explanations of Friday night's bombing as "not satisfactory." But the official added that a cease-fire was not necessary.
NATO officials have insisted that the embassy bombing will have no effect on their air campaign, designed to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accept an international plan to secure peace in the Kosovo region of Yugoslavia.
"The strength of feeling that is on display in Beijing is understandable, but the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was an acknowledged mistake, and one that is deeply regretted," said British Defense Secretary George Robertson. "But it is important, however, to recall why we are engaged in this mission and why we had to reluctantly take action.
"The military objective was and remains to disrupt Serb violence and to weaken the military machine that has been the instrument of the genocidal attacks on the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo," Robertson continued.
Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon contributed to this report.
Families grieve victims of Chinese embassy bombing as NATO air campaign continues
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