Clinton Touts Slovenia as Model for Serbia |
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 22, 1999; Page A12
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia, June 21 – Basking in a tumultuous welcome in Slovenia, President Clinton offered new details today of the future he envisions for southeastern Europe: Western powers aiding countries that embrace democracy and open markets, which in turn will encourage the defeat of President Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia.
As the first U.S. president to visit Slovenia, formerly a republic in the Yugoslav federation, Clinton drew a rain-soaked crowd of several thousand who stood for hours in Ljubljana's Congress Square to hail their visitor. He pointedly said Serbia – Yugoslavia's dominant remaining republic – should follow the example of Slovenia, which broke away after a brief war in 1991 and since then has maintained warm relations with the rest of Europe.
"We want Serbia to be part of the new Europe," Clinton said, as a man held an umbrella over his head and an interpreter translated for the cheering crowd. "But Serbia must reject the murderous rule of Mr. Milosevic and choose the path that Slovenia has chosen, where people reach across the old divides and find strength in their differences and their common humanity."
Today's address, coupled with Tuesday's scheduled visit to Kosovo refugees in Macedonia, underscored Clinton's efforts to focus world attention on plans to rebuild Kosovo and surrounding states that suffered from NATO's 78-day air war against Yugoslavia. Clinton also outlined his limits, however, calling on Europe to finance much of the reconstruction and again stopping short of explicitly calling for Milosevic's overthrow.
In comments earlier today in Germany, Clinton said Western leaders will hold meetings to "plan for the future of southeastern Europe, and after the pattern followed in the Marshall Plan of World War II, to get the people of the region to work together to define their own future."
At a joint news conference in Bonn, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Western humanitarian aid for Serbia is essential, "but making a tangible contribution to reconstruction, that can only happen with a democratic Yugoslavia."
Understood in his declaration was that reconstruction aid can come only after Milosevic leaves power. Clinton was more explicit.
"If the Serbs want to keep Mr. Milosevic," he said, the United States and it allies will help rebuild power plants in Serbia so hospitals can stay open and people won't "freeze to death this winter." But "in terms of rebuilding the bridges [destroyed by NATO bombs] so people can go to work, I don't buy that," he said. "That's part of their economic reconstruction, and I don't think we should help – not a bit, not a penny."
In Slovenia tonight, Clinton met with Milo Djukanovic, the president of Montenegro, Serbia's sister republic in the Yugoslav federation. Djukanovic is a fierce opponent of Milosevic, and Clinton's meeting with him was aimed at demonstrating U.S. support for "democratic efforts in Montenegro and our willingness to work with them," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said.
Clinton included Slovenia in his week-long European tour to highlight a nation with pro-Western leanings in a region that has a long history of political turmoil. "I want the American people and the rest of the world to see a successful country in southeastern Europe that has done a good job of promoting democracy, of advancing prosperity, of working for integration in the region and with the rest of Europe," he said in Bonn.
Despite rains that varied from drizzles to wind-whipped downpours, thousands of Slovenes lined the motorcade route from rural Brnik Airport to downtown Ljubljana, Slovenia's picturesque capital. Those who crammed into Congress Square cheered often as Clinton spoke. They roared when he said, "We will never forget this," and hundreds lunged to touch him as he shook hands for nearly 15 minutes.
Lockhart said Clinton and leaders of Europe's major nations will meet as early as July "to talk about long-term reconstruction" for the Kosovo region. The meeting probably will take place in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, he said.
Reconstruction "will probably cost more than most people think," Clinton said in Bonn, "but I promise you, it will be a lot cheaper than a continuation of the war would have been."
© 1999 The Washington Post Company