Text of President Clinton’s OSCE speech
Associated Press
November 18, 1999

Text of President Clinton’s remarks Thursday to the summit conference of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Istanbul, Turkey, as recorded by the Federal Document Clearing House:

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, President Demirel, Chairman Vollabaek, Mr. Secretary General, Ms. Dane, distinguished leaders. It’s a great honor for me to be able to say a few words on behalf of the United States.

First, I thank President Demirel, his government and the people of Turkey for a wonderful reception and for the heroic example they have set in their recovery from the earthquakes.

I thank the Norwegian chairman-in-office for remarkable leadership in a very challenging year.

We come together for many reasons. First, to reaffirm our commitment to the OSCE, a unique institution grounded in the principle that the root of human insecurity is the denial of human rights.

Here today are leaders of more than 20 countries that were not even in existence when the Final Act was signed in Helsinki in 1975 because they were not free.

In country after country, the OSCE’s ideals of human rights and the rule of law are now ascendant. A quarter-century after Helsinki, the question is not whether democracy will survive, but when it will be embraced in every European country and how it will work in every country.

Clearly, we must adapt the OSCE to meet new realities. The charter we’ve negotiated recognizes that the greatest threats to our security today are as likely to come from conflicts that begin within states as between them.

The OSCE has responded to this challenge with courage and distinction, from the Balkans to the Baltics, organizing elections, monitoring human rights, reducing ethnic and religious tensions.

We must give the OSCE the tools to respond even more effectively.

I am pleased the OSCE is endorsing the react concept, which will enable it to deploy experts in elections, law, media and administration rapidly to nations seeking to prevent our recover from conflict. That way time and lives won’t be lost while we organize from scratch to meet every crisis.

I am pleased we are endorsing the achievements of the stability pact and pledging to support its work, for there must be a magnet of unifying force more powerful than the forces of division and fear in order for Southeastern Europe to reach its full potential.

I am pleased we have recognized the needs to fill the gap between–that civilian police forces must fill between unarmed monitors and military forces. And I hope that all of us will be willing to strengthen the OSCE’s capacity to meet that need.

Now in addition to making the OSCE more operational, we have to uphold its principles in hard cases. In that spirit I would like to say a few words about the situation in Chechnya.

First of all, I associate myself with the previous remarks of the German chancellor, which I think made the case very well.

But I think I speak for everyone here when we say we want Russia to overcome the scourge of terrorism and lawlessness. We believe Russia has not only the right, but the obligation to defend its territorial integrity. We want to see Russia a stable, prosperous, strong democracy, with secure borders, strong defenses and a leading voice in world affairs.

I have often asked myself, as I hope all of you have, what I would do if I were in President Yeltsin’s place. I think before any of us sit in judgment, we should be able to answer that question.

Russia has faced rebellion within and related violence beyond the borders of Chechnya. It has responded with a military strategy designed to break the resistance and end the terror. The strategy has led to substantial civilian casualties and very large flows of refugees.

The first thing I would like to say is that most of the critics of Russian policy deplore Chechen violence and terrorism and extremism, and support the objectives of Russia to preserve its territorial integrity and to put down the violence and the terrorism.

What they fear is that the means Russia has chosen will undermine its ends, that if attacks on civilians continue the extremism Russia is trying to combat will only intensify and the sovereignty Russia rightly is defending will be more and more rejected by ordinary Chechens who are not part of the terror or the resistance.

The strength Russia rightly is striving to build therefore could be eroded by an endless cycle of violence. The global integration Russia has rightly sought to advance, with our strong support, will be hindered.

Russia’s friends are united, I believe, in what we think should happen: appropriate measures to end terrorism, protection of innocent civilians, a commitment to allow refugees to return in safety, access for relief groups and a common effort to rebuild.

In other words, in order to isolate and undermine the terrorists there must be a political dialogue and a political settlement, not with terrorists but with those who are willing to seek a peaceful resolution.

The OSCE and others can play a role in facilitating that dialogue as they did once before, and that is the role the OSCE was meant to play.

Meanwhile, I think we should all make it clear that we are prepared to do more through the United Nations, through this organization, and through any other available forum to combat terror wherever it exists.

Finally, let me say I have to respectfully disagree with my friend, President Yeltsin, in his characterization of U.S.-led NATO aggression in Yugoslavia.

Consider Bosnia, where the world community waited four years and we saw 2.5 million refugees and 250,000 deaths placed on the altar of ethnic cleansing.

I honor and praise the courage of the secretary-general and the United Nations for acknowledging just a few days ago the grievous error of the U.N. in waiting so long to act, and that wait being responsible in part for the travesty of Srebrenica.

Consider Kosovo, where the world community did not wait but there were still thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of refugees. But unlike Bosnia, because we acted more quickly, they are almost all home today, coming to grips with the challenge of the coming winter.

So I believe we did the right thing. And I do not believe there will ever be a time in human affairs when we will ever be able to say we simply cannot criticize this or that or the other action because it happened within the territorial borders of a single nation.

President Yeltsin, one of the most thrilling experiences of my life as a citizen of the world, before I became president, was when you stood up on that tank in Moscow when they tried to take the freedom of the Russian people away. And your standing there on that tank said to those people: You can do this, but you’ll have to kill me first.

If they had put you in jail instead of electing you president, I would hope that every leader of every country around this table would have stood up for you and for freedom in Russia and not said, Well, that is an internal Russian affair that we cannot be a part of.

I don’t think we have any choice but to try to work for common objectives across lines. And I certainly associate myself with any efforts that we can make together to fight terrorism within any nation’s borders.

Let me just say this in closing. We are here in Turkey, and it’s an appropriate place to say this, thinking of Chechnya, thinking of all these issues, thinking of the trouble in the Caucuses and the trouble in the Balkans. So much of the future of the 21st century will turn on developments in the vast region that lies between traditional notions of Asia and Europe, between the Muslim world and the West, between the parts of our community that are stable and prosperous and democratic and those still struggling to build basic human security and freedom.

The people who live in these crossroads face truly momentous challenges. And we’re dealing with some of them today.

They are trying to preserve their unique heritage and participate fully in the modern world. And there is no single, simple answer to all their problems. But there is a guidepost: this OSCE and its principle that human differences should be resolved democratically, with respect for diversity and the basic rights and freedom of every individual. That was true in 1975; it is even more true today.

Thank you very much.