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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Clinton makes his case for Kosovo strikes to senators

March 19, 1999
Web posted at: 3:07 p.m. EDT (1507 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, March 19) -- In a "candid" meeting between President Bill Clinton and a bipartisan group of congressional leaders Friday morning, the president laid out his case for U.S.-led NATO air strikes in the wake of the recent failure of Kosovo peace talks.

Following the meeting of 31 top leaders of the House and Senate, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott backed off plans to schedule a Senate debate on U.S. policy in Kosovo on Monday with a vote Tuesday.

Senators described the session as candid and helpful. Members on both sides of the aisle told Clinton that he needed to go to the American public and explain the U.S. plan and make sure it is understood that there would probably be U.S. casualties.

Sen. Larry Craig  

"The message I heard this morning," said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) "was a plea -- a very strong bipartisan plea that he take this issue to the American people and to the Congress in a straight up, forthright way for all of us to debate it and for our country to understand it."

"In the end I believe the American people will support him," said Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle.

Signs are growing that strikes could take place within days as the Kosovo peace talks are in a state of collapse, international observers are prepared to pull out of the region Friday and the United States has evacuated nonessential personnel from its Belgrade embassy.

Clinton stressed to the senators the need for the U.S. and its allies to show resolve and follow through on the pledge to bomb the Serbs for their failure to agree to the terms of a peace deal.

Still, several congressional leaders remained skeptical about the plan and say they, and the American people, need more explanation before U.S. military lives are risked.

Sen. Don Nickles (R-Oklahoma) said, "I have very strong reservations about deploying U.S. troops and other troops into Kosovo and had a chance to express that" to the president and members of his security team.

Senate leaders demanded the face-to-face meeting with the president after being briefed Thursday by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other members of Clinton's national security team on NATO plans to strike Serb military communications centers, supply depots and troops barracks.

The Yugoslav air defense system is sophisticated and integrated and U.S. military officials have said that NATO pilots would be at risk during bombing runs.

Sen. Joe Biden  

Despite the danger to U.S. pilots, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) supports the president's plan as "absolutely correct." He warned of the consequences of non-action.

"(Yugoslav president Slobodan) Milosevic will engage in ethnic cleansing. The number of refugees will be in the magnitude of tens of thousands. The region will be destabilized. And our interests will be badly hurt," Biden said.

Administration sources tell CNN air strikes would not begin until next week at the earliest and they don't completely rule out a last-minute diplomatic breakthrough.

The president is expected to address the deteriorating situation in Kosovo, and possible use of U.S. troops, during his Friday afternoon press conference. Clinton will speak to reporters at 4 p.m. EST.

CNN's Chris Black contributed to this report.


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    Friday, March 19, 1999

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