WASHINGTON -- The United States began actively trying to end the year-old Bosnian war yesterday, hoping that its superpower clout and willingness to dispatch military forces to guarantee an agreement will encourage a settlement.
Reginald Bartholomew, currently ambassador to NATO and a veteran negotiator, will enter stalled negotiations at the United Nations being mediated by Cyrus R. Vance and Lord Owen. The appointment would help to assure Bosnian Muslims that a "party sympathetic to their plight" is involved, a senior official said.
But top U.S. officials avoided spelling out ways that the current Vance-Owen plan might be improved, and indicated that they were unwilling to discard the mediators' map that would divide Bosnia into 10 autonomous provinces.
To the extent that a final agreement validates some territory gained by Serbian "ethnic cleansing," that is "regrettable," a senior official said.
The main U.S. objection to the Vance-Owen plan was that the besieged Muslims felt that it was being unfairly "imposed" and that it didn't include enforcement provisions that would end their fear of renewed Serbian aggression.
Apart from a new push to enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia, the U.S. plan offers no threat of immediate force against Serbs to prod them into making concessions. The United States hopes that tightened sanctions against Serbia and added political pressure, particularly from Moscow, which has longtime ties to Serbia, will help deliver a settlement.
Outlining the U.S. initiative, Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher spoke forcefully about the condition into which the Balkans have fallen. He identified the crisis as one that could develop into more widespread warfare and said that the reaction of the United States and its allies could influence the behavior of other potential aggressors.
"Our conscience revolts at the idea of passively accepting such brutality" as ethnic cleansing, detention camps and the blockading of relief, he said.
"The world's reaction to the violence in the former Yugoslavia is an early and crucial test of how it will address the concerns of the ethnic and religious minorities in the post-Cold War period," he said. "Bold tyrants and fearful minorities are watching to see ,, whether ethnic cleansing is a policy the world will tolerate."
In a slap at the Bush administration, Mr. Christopher said that the most burning foreign policy crisis facing President Clinton was essentially inherited from his predecessor. The secretary said that over the last two years, as Yugoslavia descended into "a dark period of terror and bloodshed," the West missed repeated opportunities to prevent the war from deepening.
War in the former Yugoslavia broke out in the summer of 1991 after Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from the federation. About 10,000 people died in fighting after Serbian forces attacked Croatia.
A year ago, Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence, and an estimated 20,000 people have died in the fighting there, mostly between Bosnian Serbs supported by Serbia and Bosnian Muslims. Hundreds of thousands of others have been left homeless or driven from their communities in the Serbian program of so-called ethnic cleansing.
President Clinton, speaking to reporters yesterday, said: "I think the public will support the policy. I think they want us to do more and they want us to do it in a prudent way."
Later, in his televised town hall meeting in Detroit, Mr. Clinton said his administration's approach was the "safest" policy for the United States and would prevent the further spread of violence in Europe.
"We are not committing today to make war in the former Yugoslavia. We are committing to try to help get a peace and then to enforce it," Mr. Clinton said.
Mr. Christopher cautioned against expectations that the United States would become the world's policeman. "Yet," he added, "we are the United States of America. We have singular powers and influence." Post-Cold War crises test the United States' "ability to adopt new approaches to foreign policy in a world
that is fundamentally changed."
A key part of that test will be plans to enforce an eventual settlement among the warring Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Officials said yesterday these plans were not firm enough yesterday to be disclosed. They held out the hope that if an agreement is freely arrived at, U.S. ground troops won't be needed.
The United States is prepared to commit troops if necessary, however. Lord Owen has said that the United States might be called on to supply 5,000 of a 25,000-member international force to police the peace.
Senior administration officials said enforcement would be conducted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization under a United Nations framework, thus generating some anxiety in Moscow.
"It would transform NATO from being a rigid, limited collective defense organization into a flexible, regional security organization," said Robert Ellsworth, who was U.S. envoy to NATO from 1969 to 1971.