Jesse Jackson to meet captured U.S. soldiers in Yugoslavia
White House does not endorse trip
April 30, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- American religious leader Rev. Jesse Jackson is scheduled to meet three captured U.S. soldiers Friday ahead of talks with President Slobodan Milosevic over their release.
The meeting with Milosevic is not set to take place until Saturday but preliminary meetings will be held throughout the day Friday with Yugoslav politicians and officials.
Jackson and his delegation of American religious leaders arrived late Thursday and checked into their rooms at a hotel in central Belgrade shortly before NATO bombs rained down on the city in the heaviest attack yet on the capital.
The White House, which did not endorse the trip, made clear to Jackson that his mission would have no impact on the ongoing NATO air campaign.
National Security adviser Samuel Berger told the group their visit would undermine efforts to isolate Milosevic, one clergyman in the delegation told CNN.
The Serbs want the delegation to see NATO bomb damage but the group said it was wary of being used for Yugoslav propaganda.
'Give peace a chance'
Staff Sgt. Andrew A. Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles, California, Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan, and Spec. Steven M. Gonzales, 22, of Huntsville, Texas, were captured while on routine patrol near the Yugoslav-Macedonia border last month.
"They (the soldiers) are of no value to him (Milosevic) as soldiers of war," Jackson said Thursday night. He also appealed to Milosevic to "give peace a chance."
The Red Cross has been allowed to visit the three this week after earlier attempts to see them were rejected by Belgrade. The Red Cross has reported that the three "appear to be in good condition."
"We want to do more than see them and take the messages from their relatives from who we have talked. We want to gain their freedom," Jackson told reporters as he departed Washington.
Traveling 'as private citizens'
Jackson made his comments after his delegation met with President Clinton's national security team, but failed to gain the administration's support of the visit.
"If the trip was sanctioned by the president, it would be defeated before we leave," Jackson said.
The delegation traveled on a commercial jet to Frankfurt, Germany, and then on to Zagreb, Croatia. From there they traveled by road to Belgrade.
"We go as independent religious leaders, as private citizens, not with the support of our government. But I'm sure they hope we are successful in our appeal," Jackson said.
Although the White House discouraged the mission, Jackson said he hoped freeing the U.S. soldiers would give new impetus to peace efforts.
"My experience has been whenever captured soldiers are released, it at least creates a window for dialogue," Jackson said.
Correspondent Walter Rodgers contributed to this report.
Intense NATO bombardment targets Yugoslav capital
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