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White House Urges Russia to Stand behind KostanicaAired October 5, 2000 - 2:32 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The scene a few hours ago in the streets of downtown Belgrade. As we've heard from our Alessio Vinci there, it is quieter right now. About 8:30 p.m. in Belgrade; but, again, opposition has still taken over key buildings in Belgrade.
Let's get the latest, now, from the Clinton administration.
Major Garrett is at the White House for us -- Major.
MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good day, Natalie.
Well, the Clinton administration has monitored the dramatic events in Belgrade throughout the morning. The president's senior advisers watching the developments on live television, conveying to the president in regular updates what's been happening on the streets of Belgrade. And, as you mentioned, a degree of calm has settled over the city.
There is now an effort for the United States to, at least, involve itself diplomatically with the Russian government. CNN has learned from numerous senior administration sources that, later on today, either the secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, or the president's national security adviser, Samuel Berger will attempt to get in touch with their counterparts in the Russian government and ask them to do the following, that is, ask the Russian government to acknowledge that the opposition leader in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica is the rightful winner of the September 24 election and that it's time for Mr. Milosevic to stand down.
Now, the administration sources also tell CNN, though this is a dramatic day with dramatic developments, this particular message that either Secretary of State Albright or Mr. Berger will convey is not necessarily a new one. The United States government has, behind the scenes, been trying to prod the Russian government to embrace Mr. Kostanica's election, which the United States government believes was rightful and clear-cut.
But they understand that the Russian government has, for a long time, been reluctant to do so, considering its long-standing cultural and political attachment not only to the Serbian people, but to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
But the administration believes now is a particularly opportune time to bring this message, again, to Russian government because, quite clearly, the facts on the ground in Belgrade have changed. The administration now believes it might be somewhat easier for the Russian government to at least consider recognizing Mr. Kostunica as the rightful winner of that September 24 election.
A couple of other developments we must share with you: Earlier today, the president took a couple of questions about the evolving situation in Belgrade. First and foremost, he said the United States government stands with those who are seeking democracy, stands alongside the opposition; but also made it very clear the United States would not involve itself militarily if, by some chance, Serbian police or Serbian military forces turned against those who are in the street.
Quoting the president directly, the president said, "I don't believe it's an appropriate case for military intervention." Now, the president of the United States is currently en route to Princeton, New Jersey, where he will deliver a speech on progressive governance.
Senior administration officials tell us at that speech the president will, again, refer to the situation in Belgrade. He will say that President Milosevic precipitated this particular crisis by ignoring the election of September 24 and the president will urge restraint on the part of the Serbian military and Serbian police forces and say that the will of the people should be recognized and heeded.
Natalie, that's the latest here from the White House. Back to you.
ALLEN: And Major, has anyone in the administration commented on the future of U.S. troops that are based in the Balkans in relation to the possibility of this being the end of Slobodan Milosevic?
GARRETT: Well, in that respect, Natalie, there are Naval forces in the Adriatic Sea. They are there to engage in what were long- scheduled military exercises. The president and everyone connected with the administration has made it clear that the United States will not involve itself militarily even if, by some chance -- and there's certainly no evidence on the ground of this in Belgrade right now -- the situation does become violent.
But those Navy forces were deployed there for standard military exercises. They were there for a presence in the Adriatic during the September 24 election, just there off the coast of Montenegro and will remain there. I believe, earlier in the Pentagon briefing, Pentagon Spokesman Ken Bacon said that they're on a port call now, which means that they're standing down and will remain in that condition throughout the weekend. A clear signal that the administration is not, in any way, ratcheting up their level of preparedness in any way and remaining calm and remaining, basically -- standard operating procedures for those forces in the Adriatic -- Natalie.
ALLEN: And, also, anyone suggesting where Milosevic should go were he to leave Belgrade?
GARRETT: No, that question is a bit premature, Natalie. What, now, the administration is trying to do, again: first of all, enlist the Russian government in a declaration, not that necessarily would resolve the whereabouts or what eventually may happen to Mr. Milosevic, but simply to get a declaration from the Russian government that Mr. Kostunica is the rightful winner of that election.
They believe that would have profound symbolic importance, not only across the world, but particularly within Serbia and, most especially, with the Milosevic regime itself. That is where the efforts are currently focused right now in the administration -- Natalie.
ALLEN: Major Garrett watching things for us at the White House. We thank you and we'll continue to follow developments. We'll take a break, more after this.
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