U.S. shifts direction on Bosnia Washington seeks to 'contain' conflict

May 19, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The United States all but abandoned it efforts to end the horror in Bosnia-Herzegovina yesterday, focusing instead on ways to squeeze Bosnian Serbs gradually ** and keep the war from spreading through the Balkans.

The shift came as the Clinton administration, in a break with Europeans and Russians, headed off a plan gaining momentum at the United Nations for the gradual imposition of a peace settlement in Bosnia through the protection and expansion of Muslim "safe areas."

In Los Angeles, President Clinton was asked if the peace process sponsored by the United Nations and the European Community can be revived. "I think the question is whether the process is alive," he said, referring to the peace effort launched by Lord Owen for the EC and Cyrus R. Vance for the United Nations.

And Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, in a particularly gloomy assessment, described the conflict as a "war of all against all" and a "morass." Imposing a solution would require "overwhelming force," he said.

In congressional testimony, Mr. Christopher ruled out any use of U.S. ground troops except to help implement a settlement agreed upon by all sides. He offered little hope in the near term for the Vance-Owen peace plan, and noted that U.S. military plans have been rebuffed by the Europeans.

In contrast to previous condemnations aimed almost solely at Serbs, Mr. Christopher noted that some of the worst fighting in recent days has taken place in the western half of Bosnia between Croats and Muslims.

"There are atrocities on all sides of this terrible situation," he said, adding later, "It's been easy to analogize this to the Holocaust, but I never heard of any genocide by the Jews against the German people."

He had to be prompted by a question before saying that the Serbs were the chief aggressors.

Members of the Democratic-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee, reflecting public sentiment against getting embroiled militarily in the Balkans, bent over backward to praise Mr. Christopher's diplomatic efforts.

Officials said the United States would concentrate on making sure Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic seals off his border with Bosnia to prevent the Bosnian Serbs from getting needed supplies, and on containing the war.

The administration intends to increase the number of monitors from the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe stationed in Kosovo, the Serbian province whose ethnic Albanian majority fears a new outbreak of Serbian "ethnic cleansing."

The administration also is considering a deterrent force to prevent an expansion of the conflict into Macedonia.

Mr. Christopher warned Serbia that threats to Kosovo or Macedonia would bring serious consequences.

The latest turn in U.S. policy brought the Clinton administration to the same posture of resignation that it reached six weeks ago, near the end of its failed effort to halt the war through diplomacy alone but before trying to line up support for military action. It followed Mr. Christopher's failure to win European and Russian support for the preferred U.S. military course of lifting the arms embargo on Bosnian Muslims and using air strikes to deter a Serbian assault while the Muslims acquired weapons.

In voting over the weekend, Bosnian Serbs are believed to have overwhelmingly rejected the Vance-Owen peace plan, despite pressure to approve it from Mr. Milosevic, who has at least temporarily dropped his campaign for a "greater Serbia."

Mr. Christopher, denying any rift with the Europeans or Russians, said he would continue working with them to end the conflict, but showed little enthusiasm. He will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev tomorrow and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe Monday.

The secretary of state drew firm parameters around any U.S. actions, insisting that the United States would not act alone, send ground troops into Bosnia or use force to impose a settlement.

U.S. officials fear that the Russian plan for "progressive implementation" of the Vance-Owen plan, and a related French plan to expand and protect "safe areas," would build pressure on the United States to intervene indefinitely with ground forces.

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