WASHINGTON -- The United States and its allies moved closer to using military force in the Balkans yesterday as Western diplomats agreed on terms of a United Nations authorization to ensure delivery of relief supplies to besieged Bosnians.
Officials said Britain and France had approved a U.S. draft of a Security Council resolution that could be acted on as early as tomorrow. Neither Russia nor China, the other permanent members of the council, was expected to veto the measure, diplomats said.
News agencies reported from Brussels, Belgium, that NATO was preparing plans involving thousands of troops to protect relief convoys and guard the Sarajevo airport.
But no country has committed itself to supplying ground forces. President Bush wants to limit the U.S. role to air and naval power, although he hasn't flatly ruled out ground troops.
The intentionally vague wording agreed to by the Security Council's three Western powers allows military action to "facilitate" the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Sarajevo and wherever else it is needed in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The draft resolution "calls upon all states to take nationally or through regional agencies or arrangements all measures necessary to facilitate in coordination with the United Nations the delivery by relevant U.N. humanitarian organizations and others of humanitarian assistance to Sarajevo and wherever needed in other parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina."
"Humanitarian assistance" potentially could be broader than food and medicine. U.S. officials and refugee groups anticipate a vastly expensive need for shelter for hundreds of thousands of displaced Bosnians as temperatures drop in late fall.
The draft stops short of suggesting that force be used to open up detention camps where Serbs have been accused of torturing and killing Muslims and ethnic Croatians. "We haven't imposed that interpretation," a U.S. official said.
Instead, it repeats the Security Council's demand that the International Red Cross and other agencies get access to the camps.
A second resolution instructs Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to collate information submitted to the United Nations on alleged war crimes committed by the warring Yugoslav forces and to report to the council with a recommendation on further action.
Separately, the State Department reported that the U.N. Commissionon Human Rights will meet Thursday and Friday in Geneva to begin a probe into alleged atrocities at the detention camps. The United States wants the commission to dispatch a special representative to investigate the camps.
The United States also is pushing for the placement of international observers throughout the Balkan region to contain a conflict that shows increasing danger of spreading.
The movement toward U.N.-authorized force came as battles were reported in many parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Serbian forces were increasing the shelling of Bihac and intensified their offensive against Gorazde, whose population has been expanded by tens of thousands of refugees, U.S. officials said.
The softening-up action against Bihac, which had not previously been included in designs for a greater Serbia, shows that the Serbian forces are pursuing their assault on Muslim strongholds despite the heightened international pressure of the past week, officials said.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press quoted Western military experts as saying that the U.N. arms embargo had failed to cut off arms shipments by third parties and black marketeers drawing from a worldwide glut of cheap weaponry.
The "all measures necessary" resolution followed nearly a week of wrangling that included an unusual behind-the-scenes rift between the United States and Britain, which has been unenthusiastic for months about military action. France has been more amenable to using force but resists a leading U.S. role.
Mr. Bush voiced determination weeks ago to take whatever action was necessary to back up the relief operation. But no single country propelled the issue forward until last week, when reports of Serb-operated death camps, followed by haunting pictures of malnourished prisoners, stirred strong political pressure in the United States and Europe.
Members of Congress maintained the pressure yesterday. In a speech on the floor of the Senate, Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland said, "It's time for the United States to use its power and influence to convince the United Nations to take a stronger role in protecting the innocent victims of Serbian aggression, using force if necessary."
But the office of Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Maryland Republican who is of Serbian extraction, issued a statement by Serbian-American religious leaders decrying the lack of attention to camps where Serbs are being held.
The plight of the prisoners has become a key issue in the presidential campaign, with Democrat Bill Clinton assuming a more forceful rhetorical posture than Mr. Bush.
Even yesterday, Bush administration officials continued to voice the hope that military action would prove unnecessary.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press, citing a Pentagon source, disclosed that the Air Force had sent 12 cargo-handling specialists Friday to Zagreb, the Croatian capital, to improve airport cargo handling and operations.