Washington, 2 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is responsible for the "whole catastrophe" that has befallen his country and said there are signs that his power is on the decline.
State Department Spokesman James Rubin told reporters Tuesday that the United States would not be unhappy to see Milosevic no longer being in charge of the Balkan country. But he stopped short of saying that the U.S. is seeking Milosevic's ouster.
Rubin said: "Our policy is that we want to see democracy in the FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) itself. Democracy is more than an election; democracy is a process. It is a process that doesn't include shutting down independent media, it doesn't include harassing and jailing political opponents, and it doesn't include many other aspects of the behavior that has come to mark the Milosevic period in Yugoslavia's history."
In an unusually blunt assessment concerning a head of state, Rubin said Washington believes that Milosevic's "grip on power is weakening." He cited the recent firing in Belgrade of two top army and intelligence officers as signs of Milosevic's "desperation and distrust."
Rubin said: "We believe, far from the greater Serbia he envisioned several years ago, things have shrunk. Not only is Croatia whole and independent, the Serbs of Bosnia have an assembly and government controlled by moderates who reject Milosevic's influence. Montenegro has elected officials in open rejection of President Milosevic, and key municipalities in Serbia itself are controlled by opposition political parties. And now Kosovo, which for 10 years President Milosevic considered his own backyard with no outside interference, is now a location where at least 2,000 international verifiers are envisaged to supervise election."
The State Department spokesman said Milosevic has been at the center of every crisis in Yugoslavia over the last decade.
Rubin said: "He is not simply part of the problem; Milosevic is the problem. We have been promoting democratic practices and reforms in Serbia in a number of ways, including through the independent media, including democracy assistance programs for fledgling opposition parties. That is something we are going to continue to do."
There was no immediate reaction from Belgrade to Rubin's comments. But earlier in the day, Milosevic defended his policies concerning the Serb province of Kosovo, which is 90 percent populated by ethnic Albanians.
In a statement sent to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Milosevic government criticized international efforts to include ethnic Albanian fighters in the peace process, saying such a move would be "legalizing the terrorists."
"Insolent, criminal activity and provocative actions by Albanian terrorists present an obstacle to the peace process ... in defiance of state bodies and international appeals," said the statement carried by the official Tanjug news agency.
The strongly worded Belgrade statement, issued on the eve of an OSCE meeting on Kosovo in Oslo, Norway, came as U.S. and other international mediators intensified efforts to negotiate a political solution for Kosovo.
Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia, has rejected attempts to loosen its control over Kosovo. Milosevic himself has proposed a form of self-rule that would keep Kosovo firmly within Serbia.
Time and time again at the briefing Tuesday, the State Department's Rubin offered harsh criticism of Milosevic.
Rubin said: "Let's remember there are sources of the problem; and clearly Milosevic is the source of the problem, the original sinner in this whole catastrophe that has befallen Yugoslavia in the last decade. And we have no illusions about that."
He added: "Nobody (in the U.S. government) gets up in the morning thanking the Lord" that Milosevic remains in power.