Albright tells senators NATO must stay united

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Tuesday the United States’ first objective in the Kosovo conflict is to “ensure that NATO remains united and firm.”

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Albright said she met with foreign ministers in Brussels, Belguim, last week to keep NATO countries united. She said the NATO 50th Anniversary Summit also provides a unified face for the alliance.

Albright said none of the NATO countries wanted to take military action, but they all supported action as the atrocities escalated in the former Yugoslavia.

“To date, we have been heartened by the broad participation and strong support the military has received,” she said. “No country in NATO wanted to have to use force against Serbia. But no country in NATO is willing to stand by and accept in Europe the expulsion of an entire ethnic community from its home.”

The second diplomatic objective Albright presented is the prevention of a wider conflict. She stressed the importance of helping the leaders of nations negatively affected by the conflict deal with humanitarian crises.

But committee members questioned that objective, wondering why NATO has not dropped food and other supplies to the starving people in Kosovo if the alliance is concerned about the welfare of the people of Kosovo.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she became concerned that people in Kosovo were becoming prisoners in their own homes after she heard some could only get bread and milk. Albright said NATO has not sent planes to drop supplies because the planes would have to fly too low, endangering the pilots.

Albright said working constructively with Russia is an important goal of the NATO mission.

“We want to continue to make progress in other areas of our relationship, and to bring Russia back into the mainstream of international opinion on Kosovo,” she said.

Albright said she has talked extensively with the Russians, including meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov last week. She said she feels it is important that the country remain part of the solution, partly because it has influence with the Serbs.

“(Ivanov) was clear about Russia’s opposition to the NATO air campaign,” Albright said. “But we did agree on the need for an end to the violence and repression in Kosovo, the withdrawal of Serb forces, the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid.

“Where we continue to have differences is over the kind of international presence required to achieve these objectives,” she said.

NATO planes began bombing Serbia and Kosovo last month in an effort to protect ethnic Albanians, who the Serbian army is reportedly persecuting.

Albright said she wants to “ensure that NATO’s message is understood around the world.” She said a “vigorous program of public diplomacy” is part of the campaign, including providing information to other nations and the people of the former Yugoslavia.

“We have tried to pierce the veil of propaganda and ignorance with which (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic has tried to shroud the people of former Yugoslavia,” she said.

Albright said she does not believe Kosovo should become an independent state. Instead, she thinks it should be granted the right of self-government.

“Their dreams can be realized in some other form than independence,” Albright said.

Many of the senators agreed the most important part of the struggle is NATO’s triumph.

“I have never been more fearful about NATO’s future,” Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) said. Smith said he’s nervous because NATO has never fought a war in its history, and if it falters, NATO may lose its validity.

“As the president and our military leaders have made clear, this struggle may be long,” Albright said. “We can expect days of tragedy for us as well as for the people of the region. But we must not falter, and we cannot fail.”

-by Theresa Crapanzano, U-WIRE Washington Bureau

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