Clinton Warms to Kosovo Success
By Charles Babington
His note of skepticism never entirely vanished, but it faded through the day. President Clinton spoke about peace prospects in Kosovo from early morning until evening yesterday, his tone seeming to brighten by the hour.
By day's end, he was suggesting that the United States and its allies "shift our focus" to the postwar situation in Europe. In a series of public appearances, the president's confidence grew. Something that seemed virtually unthinkable two days earlier – that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic would accept peace terms almost entirely dictated by NATO – apparently was coming true.
In a morning TV appearance, Clinton said simply that the key Finnish and Russian negotiators "did a very good job." But he was more expansive by midafternoon, saying the two – President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland and the Russian peace envoy, former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin – "played instrumental and courageous roles in making this possible. I'm grateful to them, and so should all Americans be."
Similarly, Clinton in the morning placed greater emphasis on the possibility that Milosevic might renege on the deal. "Over the last six and a half years," he said on ABC's "Good Morning America," "I've had a number of agreements with Mr. Milosevic, and the only one that's been kept is the Dayton agreement [concerning Bosnia], where we have forces on the ground."
At an afternoon appearance at the White House, however, the president made a milder allusion to potential recalcitrance.
"At the same time," he said, "there is an enormous opportunity to be seized here – a chance to shift our focus from defeating something evil to building something good; a chance to work with our allies to bring a stable and prosperous and democratic southeastern Europe in which people are never again singled out for destruction simply because of their religious faith or their ethnic origin."
Throughout the day, White House officials avoided any signs of gloating and maintained an air of business as usual, even as they realized that a remarkable political and military victory may be within their grasp. Top aides gave reporters a lengthy briefing on next week's symposium on mental health issues at Howard University, and Clinton stuck with his scheduled East Room ceremony honoring persons with disabilities.
But aides also carved out time for the president to phone Ahtisaari to express his "warm appreciation," said White House press secretary Joe Lockhart. He said Clinton also sent a "diplomatic note" to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, "which articulated his appreciation for the very constructive role the Russians have played and continue to play, and for the importance of building on a very strong relationship and being able to work through differences in a positive way that makes our relationship stronger."
For more than 10 weeks, Clinton has been urging Americans to support NATO's airstrikes to halt Serb atrocities in Kosovo. Yesterday afternoon, before the advocates of disabled persons, he was able to use such language in the past tense.
A democratic, peaceful Europe, he said, "is a goal that has been worth fighting for over the last weeks, a goal which must be uppermost in our minds as we make sure our conditions are met; a goal we must work for with steadfast determination in the months and in the years to come."
With that, the president ended his public schedule. Aides said he will spend the weekend with his wife in the peaceful woodlands of Camp David.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company