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Rubin, Hill on Kosovo at U.S. Institute of Peace March 23: Discuss their trip, upcoming elections, continuing violence

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U.S. State Department Spokesman James Rubin and Christopher Hill, director of southeastern European Affairs at the National Security Council, discussed their recent trip to Kosovo at an event sponsored by the private U.S. Institute of Peace March 23 in Washington.

Rubin said various efforts in the last few weeks in Kosovo have been "an attempt to create a new resolve on the part of the international community to take the next step, to begin to work on the civil society problems, the justice problems, the crime problems, and the political problems that an election and creation of Kosovo-wide institutions will require."

Regarding his visit to the province, Rubin said it was part of the process of increasing diplomatic engagement, getting more police there, and delivering "a very stiff message" to Kosovar Albanians about Albanian-on-Serb violence.

"We thought it was time for a kind of a course correction, where the Kosovar Albanians had come to take for granted American support for them. And they clearly had a lot to thank us for, given what we've done over the last year. But at the same time we felt that many of those leaders who we had supported through thick and thin, through very difficult times, were not willing to risk their personal capital, not willing to risk their political futures to do the hardest thing of all."

The NATO air campaign in Kosovo began on March 24, 1999, and Rubin said people concerned about Kosovo would have been outraged if nothing had been done to stop the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians by the forces of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

"They would have said that you haven't learned the lessons of history, they would have said that again you let Milosevic trick you into conducting his dirty business on the ground while talking to you in various capitals," Rubin said. "And we didn't make that mistake, and we engaged in Kosovo, we achieved our objectives, and building a civil society...is our goal."

Hill also discussed the difficulties of the mission in Kosovo, where a lot of people are working without basic utilities such as electricity and hot water. "And yet," he said, "I think progress is being made. We have gotten through a very, very tough and cold winter. And I think now we're on to a new phase in this operation, and a phase where I think we can expect to see the pace very much quickened."

Part of this new phase, Hill said, are the preparations for local elections, which are scheduled for September. The elections are a very important step, he said, "because what we will be doing here is transferring not only shared activities but real responsibility to the leaders in Kosovo. And I think right now we have leaders in Kosovo who do not yet have that sense of responsibility that they need to get, and that sense of responsibility will come to them when they are elected by constituents."

Following is the State Department transcript:

(begin transcript)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman

March 23, 2000

CURRENT ISSUES BRIEFING BY STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN JAMES P. RUBIN AND SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN AFFAIRS AT THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL AMBASSADOR CHRISTOPHER HILL ON "KOSOVO: THE WAY FORWARD" AT THE UNITED STATES INSTITUTE OF PEACE

March 23, 2000
Washington, D.C.

MODERATOR: (In progress) we like to think that we laid the foundation for that with some meetings that we had with the Kosovar Albanians in Lansdowne in September and with the Kosovar (inaudible) issues with opponents within their own groups.

Kosovo is clearly an enormous challenge for the international community. It has not gone entirely well, but we should not lose sight of the goal: a free and democratic Kosovo in which people of all ethnic groups can live securely, travel safely, speak and worship freely and prosper well.

Jamie and Chris, we're anxious to hear your views on the way forward in Kosovo, and we'll take questions from the floor. And as Cheryl has indicated, we will also take them from the Internet. We have microphones, so please make sure you wait for the microphone when we take the questions.

I'll turn it over.

MR. RUBIN: Thank you. It's very good to be here and thank you, Harriet. It is a very different location we're meeting at this time. Some of the comforts we didn't have there. And you can take credit for that roundtable. There is no question that the work the US Institute for Peace has done has enabled the leaders of Kosovo - the various civil society leaders, the media leaders, as well as the political leaders - to get together and try to talk through some of their complex issues under the auspices and through the good work of the US Institute for Peace. So I think Chris and I are both pleased to be here.

I'm going to just take a few minutes to run through a little bit about why we went and what we accomplished, and Chris will add some political perspective after that. But before doing that, I think it's important to remember, since this is roughly one year from the time that the air campaign began, of why we're meeting in this room, why Kosovo came on to the international agenda, and what it is that we've done so far so that we can see how we can move forward.

I think it's fair to say that a year ago this week, Milosevic finally and clearly rejected any serious pursuit of peace. Had President Milosevic, in his meetings with Ambassador Holbrooke - and Chris was there as well - been willing to negotiate seriously the military annex of the Rambouillet Accords -- not agree to it completely, but demonstrate that he understood he had to have NATO in and that there would be military implementation rather than a piece of paper that he would violate and could violate as he had so many other agreements -- I do not think the air campaign would have begun.

Now, a year ago we didn't say that, but I think in retrospect it's fair to say that, had they seriously negotiated, in other words, demonstrated that they wanted a peaceful solution, that they understood NATO had to be there - and for some of you who are quite expert, you may recall there is a lot of commentary in recent months that somehow we were requiring this Yugoslav leadership to allow NATO forces to deploy anywhere and everywhere throughout Yugoslavia and this was an unacceptable imposition on their sovereignty.

I will state, from my own perspective, that had President Milosevic been prepared to accept a NATO force in Kosovo, and had been prepared to work out the kind of military technical agreement that was worked out at the end of the air war -- without the silver bullet clause, without the ability to deploy anywhere in Yugoslavia -- we would have accepted it. But there was never any serious discussion by the Yugoslavs, of any kind, on the terms of that agreement. Thus, I think it's fair to say that we went as far as we could, diplomatically.

Meanwhile, the ethnic cleansing campaign that became known as Operation Horseshoe began and intensified. And prior to the air war, it's quite clear that hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, mass murder had already begun, and tens of thousands of people were in the process of being pushed from their homes.

That intensified greatly after the air campaign, but it was a process that began. So, thus, the air campaign began, and those of you who follow this probably heard, time and time again, folks like me and my counterparts at the Pentagon and at the White House use the phrase that our objectives were to get the Serb forces out, NATO forces in, and the refugees back. And that is precisely what happened: Milosevic eventually capitulated, and those three objectives were met.

So where have we come since then? Well, in talking to a group like this, it's important to get a sense of what the ideals are, and what the practical realities are. If we had had this meeting last fall, the discussion would have been, well, all the refugees maybe are coming back but they have no place to live, there are no houses, there are no shelters, there is no medicine, there is no food, there is no schools - all the basic humanitarian needs have not been met. You failed in Kosovo, the critics would have said.

Well, what's happened is over the fall, the summer and the winter, we've met those urgent requirements, those urgent humanitarian requirements: 400,000 temporary housing units were built; 600,000 people were fed by the World Food Program; 1,000 schools were opened last autumn; 90 percent of Kosovo's children are now back in school, and are being taught in their own language for the first time.

Meanwhile, the other question would have been, well, the KLA is still around, and the KLA will threaten the Serbs, and what have you done about that? Well, since that time, the demilitarization of the KLA has gone forward. It hasn't been perfect. There hasn't been perfect compliance, but over 8,000 weapons have been handed in, and over 4,000 have been confiscated. That is 12,000 weapons belonging to the KLA have now been demilitarized.

For those of you in this business, think about the comparison to other parts of the world, how long it took in Africa and other parts of the world when there was a liberation movement to give up their weapons. We're still talking about demobilization in Angola a decade after a peace agreement. Now, those are not perfect analogies because every situation is different, but I think it's fair to say that never before in the history of modern rebellions have the rebellious army that plausibly can be called the victorious army given up formally their uniforms and their weapons so quickly.

So where are we now? There are still problems in Kosovo. When I open the newspapers, and read the wires, and watch the television and I see dramatic leads, "Kosovo Still Has Problems," "Ethnic Violence Still Prominent in Kosovo," my response to that was, "Who would have thought that in so short a time after what these people have gone through that Kosovo would be a perfect civil society now?" That is unthinkable and unrealistic, and I think expectations got wildly out of whack in this area, precisely because the international community got involved, the UN officials went in, the OSCE officials went in, the outside experts went in, and a standard was created that is un-meetable in the near term.

Have we done enough on implementation? Probably not. I think what you've seen in the last few weeks, led by Secretary Albright and the President, is an attempt to create a new resolve on the part of the international community to take the next step, to begin to work on the civil society problems, the justice problems, the crime problems and the political problems that an election and creation of Kosovo-wide institutions will require.

But none of that should take away from the fact that a year ago, if I were standing here and we hadn't done what we did, there would have been outrage among those who are most concerned about Kosovo -- by and large. They would have said that you haven't learned the lessons of history. They would have said that again you let Milosevic trick you into conducting his dirty business on the ground while talking to you in various capitals. And we didn't make that mistake, and we engaged in Kosovo. We achieved our objectives.

And building a civil society, the kind of society that Harriet mentioned, is our goal. But in order to meet that goal, we have to stay the course, and we have to have an alliance of convenience not created between the idealists, who want to create the ideals of a civic society and coexistence and ethnic tolerance and Kosovo with the opponents of US involvement in Kosovo who will use every argument about problems there to justify a US withdrawal.

And for those of us who care about the long term of the Balkans, and American engagement in the Balkans over the long term, we should all be very careful in not - by being candid about the remaining problems -- not feed into the growing sentiment in Congress and in this country to disengage from Kosovo. Because the problems are hard, because they're difficult, because they don't get resolved quickly, because we're frustrated by what happens is no excuse for us to allow the opponents of engagement to carry the day.

With regard to our trip, I think it was part of this process of getting more troops, getting more police and increasing our engagement diplomatically. Secretary Albright and the President wanted Chris and I to go, and we delivered a very stiff message to the Kosovar Albanians. We thought it was time for a kind of a course correction, where the Kosovar Albanians had come to take for granted American support for them. And they clearly had a lot to thank us for, given what we've done over the last year. But, at the same time, we felt that many of those leaders who we had supported through thick and thin, through very difficult times, were not willing to risk their personal capital, not willing to risk their political futures, to do the hardest thing of all. It's one thing to state clearly who your opponent is; it's something else entirely to say that your friends are causing danger to your society.

So that's what we did. We met with all of the leaders of Kosovo - Rugova, Thaci, Qosja. Veton Serroi was not there. We met with a number of the former KLA activists who were operating in Presevo Valley and a number of the civic leaders from Presevo Valley, and we told them very bluntly that Kosovo was one thing; the Presevo Valley was something else.

Now, the day after we left, General Sanchez conducted an operation in the eastern sector of Kosovo, that involved the confiscation, at five sites, of substantial amounts of weaponry from ethnic Albanians. And that was very clearly a one-two punch, that the biggest supporters of the Kosovar Albanians were telling them to shape up, and then the military was going in to deal with some noncompliance.

The result of this is: I think the Albanians have gotten the message. They realize that they do risk the long-term support of the United States if they don't work to change their ways, in terms of working harder to deal with the extremists who are causing the problems there.

At the same time, we've just heard that there may be some developments in the next day or so, in which it's even more clear that the Kosovar Albanian leaders recognize that those operating in the Presevo Valley - who may be seeking to provoke Serbs there to cause the Serbs to crack down on Albanians, in the hopes that the United States and NATO will engage - have gotten the message. And, hopefully, we'll have more for you on that in the coming days.

In short, it's a year later. We are far, far better off than we were a year ago, but if our goal is to achieve the objective that Harriet mentioned - and that is our goal - we still have a long, long way to go. And we want to keep engaged, and we want to keep working at it, and not make the best the enemy of the good.

Thank you.

AMBASSADOR HILL: Thank you very much. I think I'll be very brief, because I think Jamie has covered basically our message here, and we'd very much like to get to your questions. But I'm actually very heartened to see this large crowd here because, as someone pointed out the other day, if war is hell, then certainly peace is purgatory. And we are very much going through that stay in purgatory right now.

It's obviously a very difficult mission. You know, we met with a lot of the people from the international community working in Kosovo. They have very difficult conditions where they work. Many of them don't have electricity; hot water is quite a precious commodity, and yet I think progress is being made. We have gotten through a very tough and cold winter, and I think now we're on to a new phase in this operation, and a phase where I think we can expect to see the pace very much quicken.

In September, Dr. Kouchner is planning to hold the first elections. These are elections which will be for the local areas, the municipal assemblies, but they will be part of an overall election program, which we believe will continue in the coming year, with electing Kosovars to all positions in Kosovo, so that Kosovo can truly be run from within Kosovo. So there will be positions elected in Pristina to run an assembly for Kosovo, and others as well.

So this will be a very important step, because what we will be doing here is transferring, not only shared activities, but real responsibility to the leaders in Kosovo. And I think right now we have leaders in Kosovo who do not yet have that sense of responsibility that they need to get, and that sense of responsibility will come to them when they're elected by constituents. So I think, really, we're beginning to enter a very important phase. The US Institute for Peace is very much a part of that, with the seminar that we held in Pristina just a couple weeks ago. And I think we'll be able to move on from there.

A number of people have looked at the situation in Kosovo, and have concluded that somehow this is a problem caused by the lack of a clear way ahead, in terms of Kosovo's eventual status. For now, we think it's very important to create the democratic institutions that will make Kosovo function. We believe we can identify what these institutions are, create the various divisions of responsibility, to create how a court system is going to look, how the political system is going to work, and that we believe Kosovo can be made to function, and function in a democratic way with a market economy.

And after all this is done, there will be the international process that's described in UN Security Council 1244 to address the status, but we are not there yet with status. We very much have work to do, in terms of creating the institutions to make Kosovo governable.

So with those very brief comments, I think we'll go to questions.

MODERATOR: When you ask your questions, we ask that you identify yourself and your organization. I'd like to lead off with one question, and that has to do with the holding of the municipal elections. As you know, this is a controversial issue, and there are a wide range of views regarding that.

And could you address what has to happen in order for these elections to be free, fair and informed, and what the international community will be doing to ensure that?

AMBASSADOR HILL: The first issue that needs to be done - first of all, OSCE will be in the lead on these elections. I think the first issue is to describe -- in some sort of interim document -- describe what people are being elected to; that is, people need to know what municipal assemblies are, and how they relate to central authorities, which will also be created, and for which elections will be held later on.

Clearly, OSCE has a big job, in terms of determining how to make sure the voter registrations are done, and that's already started now. And beyond voter registrations, we've got to make sure that, out in the communities, there is an atmosphere that's free of intimidation. There is some concerns about whether this can be done, whether you will end up with whole villages voting in one direction because of a sense of intimidation on that, and that's something that's got to be looked at very carefully.

So that's also connected to the issue of getting enough security forces there, getting enough police out into these areas, and making sure that everyone in the political spectrum in Kosovo understands what the rules of the road are. And this was something we were having a rather - how do I put it - animated discussion the other day in Pristina.

But I think people very much are looking forward to these elections. They understand that they need to work. Perhaps most importantly, they understand that not everyone is going to win these elections - there are going to be some losers as well - and that the losers need to respect the results.

MODERATOR: John Fawcett.

QUESTION: John Fawcett from International Crisis Group: For years we were dealing with Milosevic as a partner. This is from the Dayton Agreement. And you mentioned a little earlier that we would have dealt with him as a partner in the Rambouillet. We see him now meddling around in Mitrovica and Montenegro.

Bearing in mind that he's now indicted, the question is: Can you categorically say that we will never negotiate with him again?

MR. RUBIN: Well, since the premise of your question was deeply flawed, it's hard to give you a really good answer to your question. You know, diplomats are paid to deal with problems, and sometimes dealing with problems means dealing with people who you don't call your partner. And your characterization of Milosevic as a partner is an opinion and not a fact. In our view, he was a necessary evil, and that's what diplomats do for a living. And some people may not like that, but that's what we sometimes do. Chris has done a lot more of that with Milosevic. I don't know if he has a different way of describing it. That's the way I would describe it.

As early as the fall of '98, however, we made very clear that Milosevic was not part of the solution: He was the cause of the problem. But that didn't mean that the world wouldn't have been better off if Rambouillet was signed, the air campaign was avoided, the same protections were created for the Albanians in Kosovo, without the need to conduct the air campaign.

And it seems to me that that may not have satisfied the bloodthirsty, but it would have satisfied the objective. So when we were prepared to deal with him in getting an agreement that would have freed the Albanians from an apartheid-like system they had lived under for so many years, that would have provided constitutional protections for them and the Serbs through the Rambouillet political components, and provided security in the form of a KFOR NATO force there, that that would have been the best outcome - regardless of whether it would have had to have been accomplished through face-to-face dealings with President Milosevic.

And considering how many people in this room probably were responsible for accusing us of not thinking through the consequences on the ground for Albanians of the air war, it would be ironic in the extreme for those people to be the same ones saying that we shouldn't have tried to get a peace agreement, since there were really only those two options - an air campaign or a peace agreement - and everything else would have been the kind of band-aid approach that we rejected, that was so common in the early years of the Bosnia conflict.

As far as Milosevic's future is concerned, he's an indicted war criminal, and we support -- and only support -- his going to The Hague. There are other people who have met with him. I'm not going to speak for all time for the United States Government. I've not heard anyone suggest we should meet with him, deal with him, work with him. That's all I can tell you.

So I think to be obsessed with that question is to miss the larger point. His day will come. Milosevic gets weaker and weaker and weaker.

His crackdown on the media is a sign of desperation. He's lost Slovenia, he's lost Croatia, he's lost Bosnia, he's lost Macedonia, he's lost Kosovo. I saw in one of the year-ender pieces by one of the - I believe a Reuters piece, saying a local Serb in Kosovo said this last year has been the worst year in the history of the Serb nation, he said, as he sat under a portrait of Slobodan Milosevic. Well, who caused that worst year in the history of the Serb nation? The people are gradually getting that message.

Will that be enough for them to do something about it? We don't know the answer to that. It's not knowable at this time.

AMBASSADOR HILL: Let me just add one --

MR. RUBIN: I think he feels strongly enough to add to that. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR HILL: No, I don't have much to add to that, because I agree with all of that. But I think it's very important that we make clear to the people in Serbia that we are absolutely not prepared to deal with Milosevic, or to in any way normalize relations with Serbia; that they have absolutely no future with Milosevic, and that their only future is without Milosevic. And they need to understand that. We simply can not go back and begin to deal with this guy again.

I just want to make one other comment, though, about the elections in Kosovo. We also feel it's very important for all the national communities in Kosovo, including the Serbs who are the most numerous of the national communities beyond the Albanians, to participate in this process. We had a very good discussion with Bishop Artemije, with Mr. Trajkovic, and we would like very much to continue this dialogue, and to make sure that the Serbs see that in Kosovo there is indeed a future for them.

QUESTION: Roy Gutman of Newsday: Jamie and Chris, your trip seems to have made a difference on the insurgency in the Presevo Valley, but I wonder if you could now give us some more sense of how that insurgency came about. How high up was the level of support within the political structure of the KLA, now TMK, and also how did it happen in front of the eyes of some of KFOR's very finest?

And then finally --

MR. RUBIN: Could you repeat that second part?

QUESTION: Well, how did this all happen? It seems to me that US KFOR was well positioned there to keep an eye on these things, and yet it seems like it was a significant buildup, and quite a significant insurgency was about to begin.

Finally, there was a report in one of the papers the other day that said as part of kind of a deal with the KLA - or, sorry, TMK or whoever is supporting this insurgency - that they would desist, but the quid pro quo was supposedly there would be no more raids. That didn't quite ring right, but I was just wondering what the facts are.

MR. RUBIN: Well, Roy, usually you give me those three-part questions in the State Department briefing room, so it's nice to have you doing those same three-part questions here, in front of a different group.

Let me take them one at a time. The meetings we had in Kosovo were with a variety of political and former military figures, who we believed had influence over what was going on in the Presevo Valley, which included senior members of the so-called KPC, the Kosovar Protection Corps, which included political leaders and some militant types who you might call - who might be closer to military than political. And we pretty much laid it on the line with them, in a series of private meetings, about the difference we regard to Kosovo and the Presevo Valley.

As far as how this came about, which I think will answer your second part as well, let me state for the record that the US military, however powerful it is, is not all-powerful. They can't see inside every house, they can't see inside every car, they can't know what's behind every corner and under every hill and behind every hill. Kosovo and that part of Serbia is a place where there has been clan-based self-defense for thousands of years -- certainly hundreds of years.

And so all of these people have engaged in a sort of a self-defense and a clan-based structure for a long, long time. And it is our impression that the provocations that were occurring in the Presevo Valley were basically of that nature. They were not being directed by some pyramidic Albanian structure. There is no such thing in the Albanian community that I got to know. And, rather, there were a lot of local ties, there were a lot of ties from war. Some of these people who were in the Presevo Valley came over to Kosovo to help the KLA fight the Serbs during the conflict, and binding ties can be created as you're facing extinction.

So that is the kind of linkages that we see, and we understand that there is sympathy for the crackdown and the pressure that Milosevic continues to put against Albanians in the Presevo Valley.

The last part of your question is what will happen. We're not going to give up the right to conduct raids to implement the demilitarization agreement or NATO's mandate. That is inconceivable. But obviously, to the extent that ethnic Albanians take voluntary steps to deal with the problems that Chris and I went to Kosovo to deal with, that would make involuntary steps by us less necessary.

QUESTION: Galina Schneider: I'm with no organization. You mentioned the elections in Kosovo. How are you going to determine who has the right to vote? Prior to the war, there was an estimate of 50,000 displaced Croatian Serbs in Kosovo. Identity papers were taken away from Albanian Kosovars. I realize that there has been work to try and recover the identity of some people, but there is also some intelligence that would suggest that there are people who are not from Kosovo, who are perhaps from neighboring states, who would be willing to temporarily become Kosovchani or Kosovars for the purpose of a vote.

How can you build - are the Serbs who left Kosovo, if they're determined to be Kosovars, or if it's determined that displaced Croatian Serbs are also Kosovars, how are their votes going to be accomplished?

AMBASSADOR HILL: This issue of who votes is a very difficult problem, and OSCE is grappling with it right now. You know, one idea is: You look at the population as of 1998; you try to use those numbers. Of course, people left before then. They argue some people left because they felt they had to. Some people left because they just didn't feel the economic conditions - so how do you sort that out? It's not easy.

Another issue will be: What about the Serbs who are now in Serbia when, clearly, Belgrade is not going to cooperate with any sort of voting operations in Kosovo. These are all very tough, very difficult questions.

But I want to emphasize that, if you add up all these things, you will end up with the problem of the best being the enemy of the good. We need some good elections. We need to proceed with empowering politicians, and giving them a mandate, giving them responsibilities, holding them to it. And these elections cannot be perfect, and in many ways they probably need to be sort of a provisionally-based thing, rather short-term mandates. But we've got to get on with this.

QUESTION: If we provide elections outside Yugoslav zakon law, what kind of message does this give to Sjenica or Montenegro, in terms of their own desire for a separate plebiscite?

AMBASSADOR HILL: I think OSCE is looking at putting together municipal elections in September. They're going to try to involve - get as many people who consider themselves Kosovars as possible. They would certainly like to get the Serbs who have recently left involved in it. It's not going to be easy. They're obviously going to have to make decisions that will leave some people out, include some people that people don't want to see included. Nonetheless, everything is going to be provisional in nature, interim in nature, and I believe that people shouldn't try to extrapolate on this and consider this a model for elsewhere.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. John Fox from the Open Society Institute: We've been on the ground throughout the former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo, since the early '90s, working to support civil society, and I'm certainly pleased to hear the central aim of a vibrant civil society restated this morning as a principal aim of US policy.

There are at least a couple of significant problems, however, on the program side, and they remain to be addressed. One is that the UN and the OSCE don't know much about building civil society, yet they've been entrusted with many of the responsibilities for doing so under these arrangements. There are innumerable officials, offices and so forth, costing US and other taxpayer dollars to do things that neither the UN nor the OSCE is really capable of doing, including administering media.

On the other hand, the US is slashing its support for civil society. The budgets are going down sharply. They were not that high to begin with. The requests have been on the low side. There was nothing in the defense supplemental that came through doing the war, and there is precious little left right now in the funds that are moving through on the Hill.

What will the administration do, in the near future, to restore and increase support for indigenous civil society organizations, as well as those American NGOs that have a record elsewhere in the region and can't get in because there aren't the resources?

AMBASSADOR HILL: I'll take a stab at it, John. First of all, you're absolutely right: Our goal is to create civil society in Kosovo, to create democratic institutions and a market economy. We very much want to have the resources to do this. We've worked very hard with the Europeans to make sure that the resources are available to do this.

With regard to the budgeting, we're certainly interested in working with you, to make sure that we can come up with numbers that will support our bilateral efforts. We spent a good deal of time in Pristina working on these issues. I had a good discussion the other day with the AID Administrator, who is back here in town, who confirmed his interest in these questions.

As you know, reconstruction is an area where the Europeans are clearly going to be in the lead, and most of the reconstruction money will be European. We feel we have a comparative advantage in some of the other democracy institution-building, and so we very much consider this a goal and will work with you on trying to make sure our bilateral programs are adequate to the task.

I know there is some concern over whether the UN has enough experience on this, how the OSCE operates on this. Again, we want to work with you on this. We want to make sure that they are open on these questions, are prepared to work on the media -- especially on the media issues. You know, there is an American in the OSCE working on the media questions, so we very much are involved with that and will continue to be.

QUESTION: (In progress) - talking about either entertaining ideas of pulling troops back, or if not, calling for a withdrawal.

At the UN the Secretary General has called for a revisiting, or a discussion about the status question of Kosovo. Over the last weekend (inaudible) conducted a poll, a national poll, that found that a majority of Americans supported the war, supported the peace process; two-thirds think that we should stay in Kosovo to finish the job, and nearly 80 percent support an democratic independent Kosovo.

I was wondering if either Jamie or Chris, if you could comment first, on the poll, and then a little bit about this process up on the Hill and at the UN.

MR. RUBIN: Thank you for that question. The poll, I think, is reflective of the fact that when a mission is explained to the American people, when they see that both their values and their interests are affected, that they are willing to engage more internationally than many politicians sometimes think. And I'm heartened by those numbers. I haven't heard them before. They're consistent with the feeling that I have gotten in accompanying Secretary Albright around the country from time to time.

So that is, hopefully, something that those who oppose continued US engagement, either on the side of deployment of troops in the NATO force, or in financial terms, will see will be a mistake politically. But more importantly, it basically pulls the rug out from under our military victory.

Think about what we accomplished with air power and how dramatic the situation is for the people there, and what changed for them. To not finish the job in a much easier, relatively, way, through peacekeeping and spending the money necessary to make the peace work would be really a travesty and would not be a vindication of the work that our airmen and our soldiers have done through this conflict.

With respect to the Hill question, it's not new. There was not an obvious, overwhelming majority of members of Congress who supported the initial engagement in Kosovo. It was a narrow majority in Congress that supported the air campaign. And for those in this room especially who thought that we should have gone immediately to a ground war, think about how many members of Congress would have supported that if we had told them up front, "Well, we're going to bomb, and if that doesn't work, in a few weeks we're going to use ground forces."

I would estimate, and this is just a speculative number, that we would have been under 25 percent in both Houses of Congress. That is worth noting when the second-guessing and the revisionism goes on, and what we might have done differently. So even with the air campaign, no casualties from the bombing, our soldiers are operating there. When you talk to them on the ground, they're proud of what they've been doing in making a difference in people's lives, and yet there are still very powerful voices suggesting that we've done enough now and we should hand it over to the Europeans.

The lesson I brought out of my last trip, the one with Chris, was what a difference it makes when it's an American asking a Kosovar Albanian to do something. For better or worse, whether it's fair or not fair, the United States is the country the Albanians trust to actually be doing what's in their interest, and not the United States' narrow political interests. When they look at European countries, they see them through the lens of all the history of Europe, and they doubt their sincerity.

So to me, if we want to make it work, we have to do more to have American involvement rather than less, which gets me to the last point.

We, Chris and I, have discussed this with the UN. They insist that they were not talking about a final status discussion the way you were. They were merely talking about a minority rights discussion, so that some terms of reference can be created for the elections and for the Kosovo-wide institutions that people want to create.

Now is not the time to begin a permanent status discussion, regardless of what that poll might say. The Security Council includes five Permanent Members: China, Russia, France, The United Kingdom, and the United States. I said certain of those countries with emphasis for a reason. It would not be in the interests of Kosovar Albanians to try to force such a discussion right now. The result might well be worse than where they are now, which is having the maximum degree of self-government with a UN administrator, Bernard Kouchner, who is determined to give them a maximum degree of self-government and NATO troops who are there to protect them.

So I don't think it's in their interest. It's not something we support, having such a discussion now. We've got plenty of time. Think of all the issues we've talked about already and that we've all read about, the problems in Kosovo: the garbage problem, the crime problem, the economic problem, the violence problem. We've got a lot of work to do. The idea that a permanent status discussion is a magic bullet to solve those problems, I think, is wrong. It's ill-advised in the extreme.

Regardless of what the outcome of that, the garbage isn't going to be picked up, the crime isn't going to be solved, the ethnic violence isn't going to stop unless the institutions that can do that work are built. So there's plenty of time for that permanent status discussion. Let's focus now on the real problems that are facing people in Kosovo everyday now.

QUESTION: Ben Barber of the Washington Times. There's been a report that members of the former KLA, or subterranean KLA or whatever they are at this point, have been involved in intimidation and murder and crime and various other criminal offenses. Could you comment on that?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. Let me say, first off, that we do not support, do not condone, and will oppose the involvement of any Kosovar in criminal activity of the kind that you mention. There are a lot of reports out there, and a reporter's job is to sift through reports and decide what's true -- and not just repeat the last report they reported.

I've looked into a lot of this, and there are clearly some Kosovar Albanian leaders who were involved in fundraising for their cause through illegal activities, whether it's smuggling or some other activity. That would not be unprecedented in the history of rebellions.

Where fundraising goes into violence, however, is a very different thing. We have condemned the kind of violence that we've seen. There's no question that the kind of mass expulsions of Serbs from certain areas and intimidation in certain areas didn't happen coincidentally, and we've condemned that and we'll continue to condemn it.

When you get to this sort of generalized, "The KLA is a bunch of thugs and criminals," and I've seen that written in major news organizations, that is a generalization. That is not fair to those people who fought for their freedom. There are individuals in the KLA, who, as I said, conducted illegal activities in order to fund-raise, and some who conducted violent activities that we condemn. And where we've been able to prove those allegations, it's affected our relationship with them. But an allegation made is not an allegation proven.

MODERATOR: We're going to take a question from the Web.

QUESTION: This is a question about the Russia angle from Teri Schultz from Fox News Channel. The head of the Russian Defense Ministry's International Relations Division today told the news conference in Moscow that the US has basically closed its eyes to Albanian extremists smuggling in arms and, and additionally, that Bernard Kouchner is violating the UN resolution by encouraging Kosovo to continue to seek independence.

How do you respond to that, and did you hear that accusation coming from other sides? Did you get the sense that there was any mistrust of US KFOR in this regard? Or is this just another example of traditional Russian support for Serbia irrelevant to facts? Will such accusations from Moscow hurt efforts of reintegration in Kosovo?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I haven't seen the specific report that Teri, who also usually asks us questions at the State Department, put in that e-mail. And that was a good e-mail there, Teri.

The fact is that the Russians tend to be more focused on the behavior of Albanians that are as bad and less focused on the behavior of that of the Serbs that is condemnable. One of the most troubling legacies of this war is the extent to which Russian media casts a blind eye toward Serb atrocities against Albanians. The Russian nation didn't learn what every other country in the world learned from their TV screens and their media. The Russian media didn't cover the refugee camps in Macedonia, Albania, the million people who were pushed out of their homes, and the thousands who were murdered.

To suggest that the United States is not focused on Albanian-on-Serb violence strikes me as absurd in the extreme, given that Ambassador Hill and I just came back from Kosovo, where virtually the sole -- the primary focus certainly of the trip, was on that very question. Chris and I used very strong language in condemning abuses by Albanians of Serbs. So, first, the suggestion by the Russian official, if the report is accurate, is obviously off base.

QUESTION: Jody Woods, General Accounting Office. UN officials in Kosovo have indicated to us that US policy seems to openly back Thaci over the more moderate and more popular Rugova.. Could you respond to that assessment?

MR. RUBIN: If you stay in Kosovo long enough, you can get a UN official to tell you almost anything. (Laughter.) It is true that this conventional wisdom developed, and I'd be interested to answer it very directly. Most of it developed at the end of the war, when Secretary Albright sent me and I had a public press conference with Thaci upon the signing of the demilitarization agreement.

And I'd like to go back to an earlier point. That was an unprecedented agreement, to have a rebel force demilitarize -- 12,000 weapons now taken away or voluntarily disarmed -- in a matter of weeks after their victory, uniforms removed, no more KLA. That was an unprecedented act on the part of a rebellion of this type.

And when I went there to negotiate that with them and to urge them to agree to that agreement, I said to them that we told you in Paris and Rambouillet that if you sign the agreement, we would use military power against the Serbs if they didn't sign or didn't negotiate seriously. We followed our part of the bargain, and the Serbs have now been -- forces have now been removed from all of Kosovo. And now we expect you to live up to what you promised.

That's the kind of thing that makes a difference to Albanians, the sort of honor code that we invoked at that time. And they did something extremely difficult. Think about how hard it would be in the face of a victory like that, where the Serb forces that have oppressed you families for a decade and killed many of your friends and family members in the last year, have fled. Kosovo is liberated and now you're going to give up your weapons that you just did this with. So they did that and we praised them for it. And the President of the United States spoke to him on the phone, and praised him for that decision.

But never was that anything more than a praise for that decision, and for the decision they made the year before, or earlier that year, to sign the agreement. But UN officials who may have an Albanian bias, who may regard the KLA as some UN officials, not all UN officials, who may regard the KLA as somehow interfering with their better ideas of how Kosovo should run, can misjudge and skew and misrepresent support for their decision on an agreement to generalize political support.

And I think that any lingering doubts those UN officials might have were dispelled by this last trip, when Chris Hill and I made very clear, not only that we have no favorites, but that we're disappointed with all of the leaders.

QUESTION: US News and World Report. I'd like to revisit the status question. Despite US policy, Kosovo clearly seems to be drifting toward de facto independence. Elections seem likely to install a government that will be, you know, almost entirely Albanian. So I wonder if one or both of you can explain why at this point Kosovo should not become independent. And if you end up with a government there whose self-determination is for independence, how and why will NATO and the United States try to prevent that from happening?

AMBASSADOR HILL: I think part of your question, really, has been asked and answered. If you look at the Security Council right now, it's clear that there's no consensus on what Kosovo's eventual status should be. Besides that, there's an awful lot to do in Kosovo. And even those who say that somehow the status question has to be handled now and that independence has to be given how, really have to answer the question: Will independence solve Kosovo's problems?

And I don't think it'll solve their internal problems, which are enormous in terms of the complete lack of institutions, the lack of a functioning economy. But it wouldn't ultimately solve external problems because if you look at a map of the map of the Balkans, and if you look at where Kosovo is, you see it's got to have some relations with neighbors, and it's not at all clear that those neighbors would, frankly, support a movement to independence now.

So it's not that anyone is trying to prejudge the question for the future. The question is open, it's out there, and it will be solved through an international process as the UN Security Council resolution states. But there's an awful lot to do there right now. And, you know, for people to just obsess on frankly what is essentially a nineteenth century question of independence, when what is really going in the world is inter-dependence, what is really going on is countries working together with sovereignties -- with the idea that sovereignty resides at several different levels. I mean, frankly, you know, under Rambouillet, Kosovo would probably have more self-government than an EU member state does because sovereignty often goes to super-national structures.

So clearly it would not solve its problems. But we know what its problems are and we really out to focus on those problems now.

QUESTION: All of those things will not necessarily stop the independence movement. So how will the United States and NATO -- I mean, how do you stop the independence movement?

AMBASSADOR HILL: Well, we have made clear to the Kosovo Albanians that they will have - there will be an international process, which will take up the question of what their status will be. And I think all the Kosovo Albanian leaders understand what they need to do now, what they need to address, which is the lack of democratic structures and the fact that they haven't even had elections.

And it's interesting, we've had a couple of questions on the status issue today. This did not come up when we were in Pristina a couple of weeks ago. I think people understand there are other things that need to be handled in the interim.

QUESTION: American University. In terms of rebuilding the relationships between Serbs and Kosovars, I'm just wondering if there's been any thought given to something beyond merely coming up with a new set of institutional arrangements, merely organizing municipal elections, and possibly organizing something at the grassroots level where Albanians and Serbs can try to get together through their NGOs, through their religious organizations, through international NGOs, to try and get beyond the bitterness and the anger that divides them. And I'm trying to put resources into that area rather than sort of going down the institutional route, which doesn't seem to be really producing the results.

AMBASSADOR HILL: I don't think the institutional route precludes your suggestion, which I think is an excellent one, and I think a lot more should be done at that grassroots level to bring Serbs and Albanians together to talk about their common life in Kosovo. A number of Albanians indicated to us that they would like to do that. Indeed, a number of Serbs indicated that they would like to do it, and we would like them to do it as well. And nothing that we're doing on the institutional side on the issue of municipal elections, et cetera, precludes this. And at one point I only half facetiously gave the telephone number of an Albanian to a Serb and said, "Call him," because I don't think they need to wait around for us. We would certainly be happy to facilitate it if we could, but we absolutely support any efforts by NGOs or others who can bring these people together.

MODERATOR: Let me say in that regard that as a follow up to some of the earlier meetings that we are having, we are supporting some efforts at the local level with other groups and on our own as well. So we realize that that is a necessary next step.

QUESTION: Thank you. Serbian Orthodox Church, Office of External Affairs. While it has been said that war is hell and peace is purgatory, theologically the Orthodox Church does not support purgatory, so evidently peace can be hell as well for us. And given the fact that during this five month period of an internationally brokered peace, over 200,000 Serbs have been expelled, 50,000 other minorities have been expelled, murders continue on a rampant, daily basis, and it seems that there's a systematic attempt to eradicate a Serbian presence in Kosovo, given the fact that over 80-some churches have been destroyed, many of which date back as far as the ninth through the fourteenth centuries. These are world-class treasures.

My question is relative to the issue of democratization, which Bishop Artemije feels is the only viable solution to Kosovo, the only viable solution to Serbia as well. What is being done along the lines of helping repatriate those persons expelled from Kosovo as a prerequisite to democratization? And if they are allowed to repatriate, what is being done in order to secure their presence in Kosovo?

MR. RUBIN: I think we're both going to try to answer this question. First of all, let me say we met with Bishop Artemije, and I think that it's worth pointing out that we did condemn very strongly the violence by Albanians on Serbs, the organized violence. But I think when one worries about the fate of those 200,000 Serbs who left Kosovo, it's worth pointing out that the vast majority of them left in the immediate weeks after the war. I don't know the exact number. My guess would be something like 85 percent of the Serbs who left Kosovo left in the weeks after the war. And when they look at why they left, it wasn't because of Kosovo violence; it was because Milosevic didn't sign the Rambouillet Accords which would have provided them great protections and which would have included, I believe the number is 2,500 Serb police in Kosovo, and 2,500 Serb military to be phased out over a number of years.

So they left because they were afraid. Had Milosevic signed or had been prepared to negotiate seriously that agreement, the Serb rights would have been very well protected by the constitutional arrangements that Chris worked on so hard and they would have had not only NATO troops, but Serb police in Kosovo. And they would have felt safer, it's true.

But, when pointing fingers as to why the bulk of those 200,000 Serbs left, the finger should be pointed at Milosevic, who doesn't care about them. Because if he cared about them, he would have seen how much better off they would have been and wouldn't have made this fateful miscalculation. But since that wave of departures in the first few weeks, there have been additional departures. And they have been partially caused by Kosovar Albanian leaders, and we condemned them directly for that and they've lost a lot of support already in the world because of that.

But now we have to work on: What do we do with those who are left? How do we create the democratization that will encourage others to come back? And it's hard. There's a lot of revenge and a lot of anger on people's minds. And as angry as we are about Albanian-on-Serb violence, I think all of us should think for a moment of what it was like to be an Albanian in Kosovo from 1989 until 1998, in an apartheid-like system where they were treated as almost sub-human, and then from '98 through '99 when a million of them were pushed out of their homes in some of the most brutal actions in modern history.

So they're angry. They resent -- they're mad at Serbs. It's irrational. It wasn't all Serbs who did that to them. But I think as we think about these things, that's one of the reasons why we're so strongly in favor of the war crimes tribunal identifying individuals.

Because if you don't identify individuals who were responsible for these brutal acts, you have this collective responsibility that causes the cycle of revenge to never break.

And I think probably, we should be pushing harder for the tribunal to get some movement on that front. It's slow. The wheels of justice move slowly. To me, over the long term the best vehicle for expunging collective guilt is to have real trials where people can identify who was responsible for these actions. And then over time, the violence has to stop. Now, it's also true that the violence today isn't nearly what is was last summer. It's dramatically reduced. It's bad, it's worthy of condemnation, but it's not rapidly increasing. It's rapidly decreasing, but it's still too much.

And Chris, I don't know if you want to talk about any specifics there or --

AMBASSADOR HILL: Let me just add that Serbs need to know what the deal is going to be in Kosovo, what their rights are going to be. And we are absolutely prepared to work with them on this. We believe that national communities need to have their rights protected in Kosovo, rights that are protected in the Helsinki Final Act, and we need to see that those are very much rights that are protected on the ground.

You know, when you talk to US forces, US troops in Kosovo, and you ask what they do every day, I mean, you get always the same answer: Every day I protect Serbs. They escort Serbs moving from one village to the next. They have over, I think, 89 fixed points that they protect. Clearly, no matter how many divisions of troops you have there, you're going to have problems protecting everything. And we absolutely condemn the bombing of Serb churches. This is an effort to undo what is a fact of history, which is that Kosovo is a place that is shared by a number of nationalities. And so we need to get everyone in Kosovo on the idea of civil rights, on the idea of civil society, as John Fox was talking earlier, and we also need to make sure that every national community feels that their rights will be protected.

QUESTION: The British-American Information Council. We've done pretty well with deployments on the military side but seem unable to mobilize the resources to deal quickly and adequately with civilian aspects of the crisis situation in Kosovo: police, judicial and legal services, administration, medical, sanitation and so forth. What can be done about this?

AMBASSADOR HILL: You know, I think when the history books are written about this year of peacekeeping, I think it will be fairly clear that the military side of it was something we were able to get moving fairly quickly. Military units train together, they're in places like Fort Hood in Texas and they show up in places like Kosovo and they're able -- they already know who's working for whom and they get moving very quickly. It's not so easy to set up these civilian structures.

It's especially not easy in a place like Kosovo. You know, it's a very tough place to live. And those people who are critical of what the UN is doing there, they should go there and try to live there for a few months and you'll get the picture. Not easy at all. So the only solution to this is to stay at it, to be supportive of these structures, not to be excessively critical when mistakes are made, but realize that we've got to look ahead and figure out how to do things better. We are getting international police there. It took some time, but we are getting police. We're getting some international magistrates there to help with the judicial system. We're even working on the penal system as well because this is an entire system that you need to work on. It's not just a question of police. If you're going to arrest somebody, you have to be able to charge them with some law.

We've got a law there on the basis of which people can be charged. We've got holding jails where people can be held. We've got courts now where people can be brought up. This isn't done overnight; nonetheless we're doing it.

You know, we've come through this initial winter where, I must say, we were all very worried about whether people were literally going to freeze to death or starve to death. And we've come through there and now we're going to move on with these chores.

QUESTION: AFL-CIO. My question is I think related to the last question as well as to John Fox's question. In the international community there is a full consensus, at least, about two things. One is in the last ten years we have seen one country after another in the Balkans fall prey to Milosevic's war. That's very clear. Everybody sees that. The second is that, generally, civil society has to exist in order for a country to be stable.

Now, so far the efforts of the US NGOs to create civil society in the Balkans have been as fragmented, although very active, but as fragmented as the Balkans themselves. Funding is made available country by country without what I would consider a regional approach to the issue. So my question is: Is the Administration considering recommending the USAID to approach the Balkans not as six or seven separate countries but as a troubled whole? I could expand more on it, but I'm sure everybody understands what I mean.

AMBASSADOR HILL: Well, I can assure you that when we look at the problems on one end of the Balkans we consider the solutions that we found on the other end of the Balkans. There is a lot of cross-pollination in the various AID programs, which is why some solutions you have seen in some countries in the Balkans, lo and behold, pop up in other countries because we've learned from things that work.

I would say, though, we're not yet at a situation where we have a school solution to every problem in the Balkans, where we have a whole package of things that just goes in automatically and will solve them. I mean, clearly the institution-building in Kosovo, for example, is a far more difficult, far bigger task than the institution-building in Bosnia where the institutions actually, for better or worse, were still there when the war ended. In Kosovo, we've had to build them from the ground up and so it's required some different solutions.

QUESTION: A follow-up. Trade unions and AFL-CIO, as everybody remembers, were very useful in Poland through the '80s. We have now programs, funding, by the US Government in the Balkans only in Croatia and in Serbia and Montenegro, and that happened only sort of in Serbia and Montenegro only very late.

Wouldn't it be better to take preventive measures and do that if unions are useful, do that all over the region?

AMBASSADOR HILL: Trade unions as useful in Poland is one of the best understatements I've heard today. You know, there are trade unions in the Balkans. They're not adequate, obviously, and I think some more work needs to be done with them.

QUESTION: US Institute of Peace. Roy Gutman is an old friend of mine, but I won't ask a three-part question. I will make one quick comment that I know that he wanted to make, though, is that Roy and I cut our teeth in El Salvador so we know, I think, how difficult it is to collect weapons. You're absolutely right, the US Army can't control anything. So I think we have to all applaud the amazing good luck that they suddenly discovered five arms caches the day after you left.

Roy, was that the comment you wanted?

But two days ago we had a meeting with this kind of a crowd here about Montenegro, and I think we did try very hard in the peace talks last year vis-à-vis Kosovo, but obviously Milosevic did not get the message. Do you feel that he has gotten the message now that if he uses violence in Montenegro this year that there is going to be a forceful reaction?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not sure what the point of your reflection on the five sites was. The point I was trying to make was that it's not easy to know where every gun is and that 12,000 is a lot to have collected so quickly from such a small number of people to begin with.

And since one part of Roy's question I know realize was not answered, I'm going to answer it. The whole network that we're talking about for the Presevo Valley is essentially a few dozen people operating there, maybe a couple hundred who would support them, and maybe a couple hundred more from across Kosovo if there were an extreme crisis. So the numbers are relatively small we're talking about here.

On Montenegro, the Secretary of State and other officials, the President, we've been meeting with President Djukanovic over and over again. I think we've had an incredibly large number of meetings with President Djukanovic. I couldn't give you the exact number, but I would say well over a dozen in the last year or so.

And at each meeting in our public way we make clear that the Balkans and this part of Southeastern Europe is important to the security of the United States, as demonstrated by many actions we've taken in the past, and that we include Montenegro in this part of the world as an important interest of the United States. Beyond that, speculating about what we would or wouldn't do we think would be unwise. And we have no doubt that President Milosevic has heard those repeated messages.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: usinfo.state.gov)