Washington, 14 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says the United States and its allies are willing to help rebuild the Balkans and also embrace Serbia into the community of nations if it accepts ethnic tolerance in Kosovo and embarks on the path of democracy.
Clinton told a group of American veterans Thursday that the U.S. has no quarrel with the Serbian people -- only with their political leadership. He again called on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to pull back his troops from Kosovo, allow the return of ethnic Albanian refugees and accept the stationing of international peacekeepers in the province.
Clinton said a partial withdrawal of Serb troops could only mean the continuation of the civil war and NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia.
He said once peace is restored in Yugoslavia a Marshall Plan could be launched in Southeastern Europe to help rebuild its economy crippled by the war and strained by hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled to Macedonia, Albania and other neighboring countries.
The original Marshall Plan was provided by the United States to Europe after World War II to help rebuild nations -- including former enemies Germany and Italy -- that were devastated by the war.
Clinton said: "War is expensive, peace is cheaper, prosperity is downright profitable. We have to invest in the rebuilding of this region. Southeastern Europe, after the Cold War, was free but poor. As long as they are poor, they will offer a less compelling counterweight to the kind of ethnic exclusivity and oppression that Mr. Milosevic preaches."
The president added: "We have to work with our European allies to rebuild Southeastern Europe and to give them an economic future that will pull them together."
Clinton said the United States would work with the World Bank to invest in the region to promote stable and peaceful governments. He offered no specific monetary figure but the original Marshall Plan was worth several thousands million dollars in today's money. It was rejected by the Soviet Union and its East European satellites.
In his speech to about 200 veterans of foreign wars, Clinton stressed two basic themes: no compromise on NATO's core demands on Kosovo and a willingness to help build a prosperous, peaceful and democratic Balkans.
"Our quarrel is not with the Serbian people. The United States has been deeply enriched by Serbian Americans. Millions of Americans are now cheering for some Serbian Americans as we watch the basketball play-offs every night on television. People of Serbian heritage are an important part of our society. We can never forget that the Serbs fought bravely with the allies against fascist aggression in World War II, that they suffered much; that Serbs, too, have been uprooted from their homes and have suffered greatly in the conflicts of the past decade that Mr. Milosevic provoked."
Clinton compared Serbia's ethnic cleansing with the Holocaust -- the Nazi's effort to annihilate the European Jewry, Gypsies and others.
He said while ethnic cleansing is not the same as the ethnic extermination of the Holocaust, the two are related. The president said both are premeditated, vicious and systematic oppression fueled by religious and ethnic hatred.
Clinton said nine out of every 10 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have been turned into refugees by Serb forces.
Kosovo is merely the latest victim of Milosevic's campaign, Clinton said. He accused the Yugoslav leader of inciting for 10 years religious and ethnic hatred in the cause of greater Serbia.
In remarks earlier Thursday, Clinton acknowledged that the American people are probably frustrated that the conflict with Yugoslavia has not been brought to a successful conclusion yet. But he said America and its NATO allies must pay the price to secure the safety of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.
Clinton said he believes the American people understand and support the alliance air campaign against Yugoslavia, now well into its second month. He said future generations would not forgive the American leadership if it did not stand up against ethnic cleansing.
The president also urged the U.S. Congress to quickly approve an emergency spending bill to fund the air campaign and humanitarian efforts to help refugees. He is seeking $6 billion from Congress.