Washington, 28 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- With the threat of immediate NATO military action lifted, U.S. President Bill Clinton says stability in Kosovo ultimately depends on a lasting political settlement embraced by a truly democratic Yugoslavia.
Clinton says he is encouraged that NATO's resolve has compelled Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to pull back his forces and comply "very substantially" with the demands of the international community. In addition to the troop withdrawal and a cease-fire, Milosevic agreed to negotiate with the ethnic Albanian leadership and let refugees receive aid.
"Hopefully, now the climate of fear and intimidation can be lifted and Kosovar Albanians can return to their villages and -- more importantly over the long run -- that negotiations toward a durable and peaceful resolutions can move forward," Clinton said.
The American president made the comments Tuesday shortly after NATO announced that it was recognizing that Belgrade has been engaged in a substantial troop and police withdrawal from the largely ethnic Albanian province of Serbia.
Nevertheless, NATO decided to maintain the threat of air strikes against Serbian military targets for an unspecified period.
Ambassadors from the 16 allied nations met in Brussels and agreed to indefinitely extend a military activation order. The directive is keeping more than 400 allied planes on the runways.
But the alliance did not set a new deadline for air strikes after the previous deadline expired Tuesday night without NATO ordering the planes into action. Clinton said from the beginning the alliance had three overriding objectives in Kosovo.
"First, to end the violence that threatens the fragile stability of the Balkans; second, to prevent a humanitarian crisis from becoming a catastrophe, by stopping the repression of Kosovar Albanians; and third, to put Kosovo back into the hands of its people by giving them self-government again," Clinton said.
The president said real progress has been achieved toward each of these objectives.
Clinton said the fighting has stopped, displaced people are beginning to return to their homes and humanitarian aid is flowing. And he noted that Milosevic has agreed to negotiate self-government for Kosovo.
But Clinton warned: "Over the long run, stability in Kosovo depends upon a durable political settlement, ultimately on the establishment of democracy and civil society, including a free press, throughout the former Yugoslavia."
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also addressed the Kosovo issue Tuesday, saying that if all goes well, further humanitarian catastrophe will now be prevented. The secretary of state said, however, that a political crisis still remains.
"This crisis can only be resolved at the bargaining table. This is a vital point, for not even NATO military force can resolve the tensions, rivalries and disagreements that are at the heart of the problem of Kosovo," Albright said.