Clinton apologizes to China over embassy bombing
May 10, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton offered a personal, public apology to China on Monday for the weekend bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
"I apologize, I regret this," the president said before his remarks at the opening of a conference on youth violence in Washington.
Clinton said he had contacted Chinese President Jiang Zemin to offer condolences, but added that it was "important to draw a distinction between a tragic mistake and a deliberate act of ethnic cleansing."
"(The embassy bombing) was in isolated, tragic event while the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo ... is a deliberate and systematic crime," he said. "Until the NATO conditions are met, our campaign will continue."
Earlier Monday, China had called for an "open and official" apology to the Chinese government, people and relatives of the three Chinese journalists killed in the attack.
Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan also called on the United States to thoroughly investigate the incident, make the results public and "severely punish those responsible."
NATO bombers hit the embassy Saturday, killing three and injuring more than 20 people, six critically. U.S. officials said that faulty intelligence led them to believe the building was a Yugoslav army supply center.
The bombing spurred thousands of protesters to mob U.S. and British embassies and consulates in Beijing and other cities in China and other countries for three days, furious at what they saw as a deliberate attack on China.
Clinton sent a letter to Jiang on Sunday making clear he U.S. government's deep regret over the attack. NATO has also expressed its regrets for the bombing and the deaths of the Chinese citizens inside. But the Chinese media has largely ignored both the apologies and the contention that the bombing was an accident.
China's demands for an apology followed the suspension of talks on weapons proliferation, international security and human rights.
Movie theaters in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing had already suspended the showing of American films in response to the bombing. "Saving Private Ryan" and "Enemy of the State" are among the offerings affected by the ban.
"The current situation is not suitable for screening American films," said an official at the Shanghai Film Art Center.
In Beijing, hundreds of police in riot helmets ringed the U.S. Embassy to shield it from the protesters who surrounded the diplomatic mission. Sasser, inside the embassy, said by phone that while he and his staff had been "essentially hostages," they were now able to move in and out of the building.
"We're surrounded by a cordon of police. Demonstrators have started arriving again this morning," Sasser told CNN. "The embassy building itself ... the structure has been damaged by (objects) thrown in breaking windows, and Molotov cocktails that set at least two fires in the embassy last night and yesterday."
Monday protests were still going strong by evening. They started smaller and more organized than the violent demonstrations that erupted in the wake of the bombing. Sasser said he and his staff did feel "more secure."
The U.S. State Department issued an advisory Monday warning Americans to postpone travel to China "until the situation stabilizes." It ordered its diplomats to stay home and advised other Americans to do so.
Official travel by U.S. government employees to China has been suspended and those working in the country have been told to stay home, the advisory said.
In the Yugoslav capital, hundreds of Chinese demonstrators were joined Sunday by Serbian sympathizers who denounced the NATO attack and called for an end to the war.
The protests in China have been sanctioned by the government as long as they remain "legal." Many of the protesters believed the embassy was purposefully targeted and had not heard of U.S. and NATO apologies.
The attack on the Chinese Embassy complicated diplomatic efforts to end the crisis in Kosovo. Russian Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, who had just arrived back in Moscow carrying details of "new circumstances" from talks with European leaders during the week, was heading for Beijing Monday.
Chernomyrdin will continue consultations begun last week in Beijing by Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, Sergei Prikhodko. Sources said the Russian envoy will discuss the situation in Yugoslavia.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, also preparing to travel to China, called for a full inquiry into the strike on the Chinese Embassy. Schroeder, who is scheduled to leave for China Tuesday, shortened his planned visit and narrowed its focus to the Yugoslav crisis.
A Bonn official said Germany viewed official explanations of Friday night's bombing as "not satisfactory." But the official added that a cease-fire was not necessary.
NATO officials have insisted that the embassy bombing will have no effect on their air campaign, designed to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accept an international plan to secure peace in the Kosovo region of Yugoslavia.
"The strength of feeling that is on display in Beijing is understandable, but the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was an acknowledged mistake, and one that is deeply regretted," said British Defense Secretary George Robertson. "But it is important however to recall why we are engaged in this mission and why we had to reluctantly take action."
"The military objective was and remains to disrupt Serb violence and to weaken the military machine that has been the instrument of the genocidal attacks on the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo," Robertson continued.
Beijing Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon contributed to this report.
Families grieve victims of Chinese embassy bombing as NATO air campaign continues
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