Kosovo Speech – Blair – March 25 1999
Comment at end
17th February, 2008
BREAKING NEWS: Kosovo declares independence from Serbia
It’s been almost nine years since NATO states went to the rescue of the Kosovans, led by the British, under Prime Minister Tony Blair and the USA, under Bill Clinton. It’s easy to forget how Blair saw what needed to be done to help release Kosovar Albanian Muslims from the grasp of Milosevic. And some forget that he had to work hard to persuade Clinton to engage ground troops. Without such troops, and Blair’s guiding hand on tactics, this could yet be an ongoing war.
It is also clear from the transcript that not all of our EU allies were fully onside. So that’s nothing new then.
Having said that, it is clear that unrest is possible even likely. Russia is not on board and will side with Serbia. More fireworks expected.
I wonder what Mr Blair is thinking today, and how he is feeling about this development. Unless he is asked, I suppose we may never know. Once a prime minister has departed the domestic scene, no matter how momentous and far-seeing were his actions, people seem to lose interest in the right decisions he made.
Now, if it were Iraq – and the allies all pulled out tomorrow – Blair’s phone line would be red-hot, would it not?
Only bad news sells. Our biased newspapers see to that.
But I want to thank you, Mr Blair, for having the foresight and the courage to see what had to be done to stop the ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the former Yugoslavia.
A commenter at the BBC’s Have your Say page says this:
‘Congratulations Independence Kosovo. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia today ending a long chapter in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia. Just to remind you all 9 yrs ago here was war, over 12.000 pple were killed, over 220.000 houses were burne’d and over 1 million was deported from own home’s………..and many other reason’s.We deserve Independence. Just we’d like 2 say main contribute for our Independence has our ex legendary President.Ibrahim Rugova, we are thankful to him. All the best!’
TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH BRITISH P.M. BLAIR ON KOSOVO MARCH 25, 1999
(Airstrikes continue to make sure NATO fulfills objective)
March 25, 1999
Berlin — British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in an interview here March 25 that the NATO Allies have all made clear “right from the very beginning that of course we want a diplomatic solution to this, we want a political solution to it, but it can’t happen except on a basis which makes Milosevic come back into line, with the agreement that he entered into, withdraw his troops, stop the repression, start behaving in a civilised manner to the Kosovar Albanian civilian people, and that is the only basis upon which a proper diplomatic solution can be found.
“In the meantime,” Blair said, “the action has to continue in order to make sure that we fulfill our military objective.”
The Prime Minister said that while there is “no doubt at all” that the NATO air strikes are having an impact, “this political initiative can only be successful in circumstances where Milosevic is abiding by the agreements he has entered into, and everybody is completely clear on this, and this is a situation which everyone should understand we have a specific military objective: to stop the repression, to protect the civilian people in Kosovo, and we will carry out that military objective.”
Following is the UK transcript:
Doorstep interview given by the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, Berlin, 25 March 1999
Q: Prime Minister, do you agree with the Italian Prime Minister that it could be sooner, rather than later, that military action stops and the diplomatic process takes over?
BLAIR: We have all made clear right from the very beginning that of course we want a diplomatic solution to this, we want a political solution to it, but it can’t happen except on a basis which makes Milosevic come back into line, with the agreement that he entered into, withdraw his troops, stop the repression, start behaving in a civilised manner to the Kosovar Albanian civilian people, and that is the only basis upon which a proper diplomatic solution can be found. And in the meantime the action has to continue in order to make sure that we fulfill our military objective.
Q: But the Italian Prime Minister is suggesting that the Serb offensive has been stopped by the NATO bombing. Is that correct?
BLAIR: There is no doubt at all it is having an impact, but this political initiative can only be successful in circumstances where Milosevic is abiding by the agreements he has entered into, and everybody is completely clear on this, and this is a situation which everyone should understand we have a specific military objective: to stop the repression, to protect the civilian people in Kosovo, and we will carry out that military objective.
BLAIR: Absolutely not. If we can achieve a diplomatic or a political solution then everyone is delighted. The question is what are the circumstances in which such a solution can succeed? It can only succeed on the basis that Milosevic abides by the agreement he entered into, stops repressing the people, gets his troops back into barracks, gets his heavy artillery out of there, starts to behave like a civilised person towards the people in Kosovo.
Q: But you would surely concede that it is regrettable that the Italians have said this, indicating that perhaps there is no need for further action?
BLAIR: No, because I don’t believe that is what has been said at all. What has been said is simply that if you can find a political solution, find a political solution. But I can assure you, the Italian Prime Minister is fully behind the action that has been taken.
Q: Can I ask you about your conversation with Mr. Primakov, if you have had it, that is? Have you been able to reassure him and have you actually brought him back to thinking more kindly about this operation at all?
BLAIR: There has never been any doubt at all, the Russians have their own position, they are opposed to military action, they will carry on being opposed to military action. But their view of course, though they disagree with the means, their view of the end, namely a situation in which the Kosovar civilian population can live in peace, is the same. And so there is that common ground, but I don’t pretend to you that there is anything other than a disagreement about the means that we are using.
Q: May I just follow through with a more general question, which follows from some of the answers you gave there. Is there still a basic cohesion here among the leaders with some slight differences, or do you detect that some people are getting a bit worried, getting a bit wobbly about it?
BLAIR: No, the position is as it has always been. NATO is solid and united behind this position. We want a diplomatic and political solution, we have wanted that for months, we want it now, still. But it can only happen on the basis that Milosevic comes back into line with the agreements that he has entered into, stops waging war on the Kosovar civilian people, stops repressing them, stops brutalising them, gets his heavy artillery and his troops back where they should be and ceases the operation that is the reason for our military action, and I can assure you that is the position of the entire NATO alliance, as indeed we said in our statement, if you read our statement yesterday evening it could not be clearer.
Q: Yes, but that is why I am wondering if people are beginning to wobble from that statement?
BLAIR: Absolutely not.
Q: Given what you say, the suggestion is there will be further raids. What are you doing to pursue, if you like, the other track, which is to try and find out what Milosevic’s response is, whether he is now prepared to come into line and what would be a measure of his good faith given how in the past he has shown bad faith?
BLAIR: Milosevic is in no doubt as to what he needs to do. I mean it doesn’t require us to write him a letter and explain it. We have said very clearly what he has to do. What he has to do is abide by the agreements he has entered into.
Q: But how do we establish what he is doing now, given that we are now in the business of bombing him?
BLAIR: We know exactly what he has to do, he knows what he has to do. He has been engaged in a policy of repression and brutality against the Kosovar civilian people, he has broken his word time and time again, this is a man who for 10 years has plunged this part of the world into chaos and instability, he knows exactly what he has to do, so he doesn’t need us to remind him of it, he needs to act, to come back into compliance.
Q: But how does he wave the white flag?
BLAIR: It is not a question of waving the white flag, it is a question of behaving in a decent and civilised way to people that are supposed to be under his control and part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Q: But if he calls his military police back into barracks, what does he do in practice?
BLAIR: As I have said to you, Elinor, what he does in practice is abide by the October agreements and that set out a whole series of things that he was supposed to do, including getting his heavy artillery out, making sure that his troops were reduced to proper levels, making sure that they were not engaged in repression and brutality against the civilian population. Those are the things that have been there right from the very word go and there is absolutely no reason why he doesn’t abide by that, other than the fact that he doesn’t want to.
Q: You will be making a national broadcast tomorrow to describe to people what your position is. Are you worried about British public opinion on this issue?
BLAIR: I believe people accept why we are taking this action, they know the reluctance that is there, they know the seriousness of intent that is there, they know the reasons for it. But it is important always to remind people. This is a humanitarian catastrophe that we have to avoid. There are tens of thousands of people that will die, or will be driven from their homes, and this place — Kosovo — is right on the doorstep of Europe, it is right next door to Greece, to Italy, to places people are very, very familiar with in Britain. This is why we have to act, it is not that we enjoy the spectacle of using military force. We don’t, we shrink from it. We tried for months to avoid it, but we are doing it because we genuinely believe in the name of humanity and the name of peace in this region. We have no alternative. Thank you very much.
6th July 2010