U.S. won't fight to save Sarajevo fall of city near Biggest offensive threatens to cut last supply route

July 22, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher ruled out any U.S. military action yesterday to prevent the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo from falling to Serbian forces.

His comments revealed that the Clinton administration has rejected military options discussed last week by top advisers to prevent what a senior administration official called a looming "humanitarian disaster" in Sarajevo.

These options included dispatching U.S. ground forces to the besieged city.

The fall of Sarajevo would be a major blow to United Nations credibility, since the capital is the most important of six cities designated by the Security Council as "safe areas" to be protected by U.N. troops.

In addition, the United States continues to give at least verbal support to the territorial integrity and independence of Bosnia.

At a news conference on the eve of his departure for a trip to the Far East, Israel and Arab capitals, Mr. Christopher said repeatedly that "the United States is doing all it can consistent with its national interest [in the Balkans]."

Describing the situation as tragic, Mr. Christopher said, "There are some problems that defy simple solutions."

Sarajevo, suffering from a four-week water and power outage and disruption of food convoys, is also facing what reports from the scene describe as the largest Serbian offensive of the 15-month-old Bosnian war.

The most significant battle is occurring on Mount Igman, overlooking the Sarajevo airport, which provides the only supply lane to the capital.

"The utility situation is still very grave," Peter Kessler, a U.N. aid official in Sarajevo, told the Associated Press yesterday. "Many people can't prepare the food they get without fuel to heat rice, boil macaroni, bake bread."

A senior administration official said yesterday that despite conflicting reports on the military situation around Sarajevo, the U.S. assessment is that: "The Serbs could overrun Sarajevo at any point they wanted to do so."

Mr. Christopher described U.S. interests as offering humanitarian relief "to the extent that we can provide it," preventing the spread of the conflict, imposing sanctions and preparing for war crimes trials.

The Clinton administration has sent a 300-troop force into Macedonia to deter Serbian aggression and said it would use air power to protect U.N. troops guarding the safe areas and to help implement an eventual peace accord.

In recent days, the United States and other NATO countries have beefed up the number of aircraft available in Italy to protect U.N. troops, many of them English and French.

But the United States has not offered to help protect the safe areas themselves and prevent the forced partition of Bosnia into ethnic zones.

President Clinton, in an interview Tuesday night, blamed Europe for the recent deterioration in the conflict.

"The closest we ever were to settling that was when the Serbs and Croats thought that the Europeans were going to go along with my proposal to lift the arms embargo [to the beleaguered Muslim forces] and to make available standby air power," the president said.

"When it became obvious that I could not prevail in the United Na

tions because of the opposition of some of the European nations, that's when things began to deteriorate again instead of move toward peace," he told Larry King on CNN.

He and Mr. Christopher both reiterated the U.S. pledge to help implement a settlement agreed upon by Muslims, Croats and Serbs.

The plan under negotiation would give Muslims a portion of what is now Bosnia, with the rest divided between the militarily more powerful Serbs and Croats.

On another topic, Mr. Christopher said that in his meeting with Vietnam's foreign minister in Singapore, he will insist on "all the available information on POWs and MIAs" before further steps are taken toward normalizing relations.

"That's what's driving our policy in the United States," he said.

His visit next week to Mideast capitals is intended to break impasses in talks between Israel and Palestinians and Israel and Syria. Mr. Christopher hopes to achieve major breakthroughs in the peace process by the end of the year.

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