Washington, 28 May 1999 (RFE/RL/) -- The United States says Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic must face trial for war crimes, rejecting the possibility of immunity from prosecution in a possible exchange for a deal on Kosovo.
U.S. President Bill Clinton, commenting on the International War Crimes Tribunal's announcement in The Hague on Thursday that it indicted Milosevic and other senior Yugoslav officials, said the court's decision will have significant ramification.
Clinton said: "It will help to deter future war crimes by establishing that those who give orders will be held accountable. It will make clear to the Serbian people precisely who is responsible for this conflict and who is prolonging it. It speaks for the world in saying that the cause we are fighting for in Kosovo is just. I call on all nations to support the tribunal's decision and to cooperate with its efforts to seek justice. "
At a news conference in Washington, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the U.S. and its NATO allies want to see Milosevic surrender to the tribunal. She made the comments at a joint briefing with Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy. The two met to discuss the Kosovo conflict and plans for post-war reconstruction of the Balkans.
Both Albright and Axworthy said there is hard evidence that atrocities have been committed in Kosovo by the Serbs against ethnic Albanians.
Yugoslav officials have dismissed the tribunal's action as politically motivated under NATO's direction.
Albright said: "The indictment of Mr. Milosevic and several of his associates does not change either our goals or our strategy. We fully support the tribunal at The Hague in its effort to hold accountable those responsible for war crimes, and we will not rest until the people of Kosovo are able to return home, reunite with their families and begin to rebuild. "
The U.S. secretary of state said once there is peace in Kosovo, the economic reconstruction of southeast Europe can begin with Western aid, including to a democratic Serbia.
Albright said: "I am very involved and very excited about the various initiatives that have been proposed for the integration of the Balkan peninsula into Europe, into modern Europe. One of the whole other reasons that we have felt that this issue is so important is it's the missing piece for a whole and united Europe, the first time in its history. And so being able to then develop various plans that would make sure that the Balkans get properly integrated is important."
Albright added: "We have made clear that only a democratic Serbia would be eligible for being a part of this and that we have no fight with the Serb people, and a government that had democratic principles as a basis of it would be welcome part of this kind of an arrangement."
Asked by a reporter whether a deal would be acceptable to spare Milosevic from prosecution in order to facilitate a settlement on Kosovo, Albright said the U.S. has "made clear that we would not go for any kind of immunity."
Albright said: "We believe that the War Crimes Tribunal is an integral part of the international system and the United Nations system, and it was put into place by a Security Council resolution, and that they have operated in a way that the indictment has taken place, and now the rest of the judicial process has to follow through."
She reiterated the U.S. administration's desire to press on with diplomatic efforts, with Russia's mediation, to achieve the basic NATO objectives: the withdrawal of Serb forces, the return of refugees and the stationing of an international peacekeeping force.
Also in Washington, several prominent former U.S. officials participated Thursday in a privately organized conference (by the Balkan Action Committee) to discuss the Kosovo crisis. Among those taking part were former U.S. Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick and former White House national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Carlucci, who served under President Ronald Reagan, said the more than two-month-old bombing campaign has "not produced the desired results" to force a settlement and raised questions whether the air campaign alone can bring peace to Kosovo.
The United States and its allies have said repeatedly they are confident that the bombing will do the job and insist they have ruled out the use of ground combat forces.
Commenting on the Milosevic indictment, Carlucci said it is useful for several reasons.
Carlucci said: "First it's deserved on the merits. Milosevic ought to be held accountable for what he has done. Secondly, by making the negotiations more difficult we think that's good, because we note Milosevic's track records on negotiations where he pockets your commitments and then selectively reneges on his obligations. And by definition, negotiating with Milosevic gives him the initiative and we could only erode NATO's objectives. And finally, there is a question of using Russia as an intermediary. And I think (Viktor) Chernomyrdin in his (newspaper) article today (Thursday), makes it very clear that Russia is not out to defend NATO's interests and I don't know why we ever suspected they would be."
In an opinion piece published by The Washington Post, Chernomyrdin said if NATO does not halt the bombing of Yugoslavia, he would recommend to Russian President Boris Yeltsin to disengage Russia from peace mediation and would urge the state Duma not to ratify the START II nuclear weapons treaty with the United States. Brzezinski, who served under President Jimmy Carter, said that Russia is trying to get the best possible deal for Milosevic.
He said: "Other than pleading for American money, I take it he's (Chernomyrdin) telling us that if we don't accept what he has to offer Russia will take an even more strident anti-NATO and anti-western position."
(Alexandra Poolos of NCA/Washington also contributed to this story.)