Washington, 14 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says he is seeking emergency funding from Congress to help finance the air campaign against Yugoslavia and help house and feed hundreds of thousands of Kosovo refugees.
Clinton made the announcement Tuesday at a White House following a meeting with several members of the U.S. Congress. He did not provide a specific dollar amount. But at a subsequent Defense Department briefing, spokesman Ken Bacon gave a tentative estimate of between $3 billion and $4 billion.
Political observers say the meeting with U.S. lawmakers -- the second in as many days - was held to forge unity between two key branches of the U.S. government: the executive and legislative. The president makes foreign policy with the advice and consent of the Senate. Congress -- the House of Representatives and the Senate - appropriate money for military and civilian needs. The White House said the meeting focused on NATO's military operations, the situation of ethnic Albanian refugees and diplomatic solutions to the crisis.
Clinton said: " I'm grateful for the support we have received from members of Congress from both parties and also very grateful for the questions, the comments and the advice that came out of this and previous meetings. Our objectives here are clear, but I want to restate them. We want the Serb forces out of Kosovo, we want the refugees to be able to go home, protected by an international security force as they work toward self-government."
Clinton noted that the meeting coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorating the Nazi's victims in World War II. He said on this day, the West must resolve not to let ethnic cleaning and killing in the Balkans go unanswered.
Clinton said: "As I told the members of Congress today, I will shortly submit to them an emergency supplemental budget request to fund our military operations and munitions needs, while maintaining our military readiness; to provide urgently needed assistance to the front-line states, nations bordering Kosovo, that are struggling to preserve their own stability, as they cope with refugees and turmoil in the region; and of course, to fund our portion of caring for the hundreds of thousands of refugees."
The president explained further why the emergency fund was needed:
"These expenses are an immediate and (represent an) emergency. They are necessary so that we and our NATO allies can continue to pursue this mission. I look forward to working with members of both parties, in both houses, to pass this appropriation soon and to continuing our mission to free the people of Kosovo of the oppression to which they have been subject and meet the conditions, which I have outlined."
Clinton said NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia are already diminishing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's military capabilities, damaging his refineries, tanks and artillery and destroying half of his advanced MiG-29 fighter jets.
Several senators said it would be a mistake for Clinton to flatly rule out of using ground forces against Yugoslav troops in Kosovo.
Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts told reporters he heard from Clinton that he does not personally believe that ground troops will be necessary to achieve military goals in Yugoslavia. However, Kerry added that he also heard Clinton say that he believes nothing essentially is off the table.
But White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Clinton's position has not changed. He said Clinton is not contemplating the introduction of ground forces into a hostile environment in Kosovo.
Kerry said: "I think the message of today's meeting, and the message ought to be very clear to Mr. Milosevic and to the world, that there is a strong commitment to see this through. People understand that it will be difficult, but we are committed to achieve our goal which is clear and is the return of refugees to Kosovo and the protection of Kosovo."
In another development, the White House said Defense Secretary William Cohen has indicated he may seek authority to call up some military reserve forces.
Spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters Cohen is expected to make a decision about recommending the call up of some reserve forces in the near future. Activation of reserve forces must be approved by the president.
Lockhart gave no figures and did not outline what the reservists would be doing.