SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Sharp dissent emerged at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo yesterday over the Clinton administration's decision to change its policy and engage in direct negotiations with the Bosnian Serbs despite their rejection of an international peace plan.
The dissent centered on what one official described as attempts by the State Department to oust the U.S. ambassador to Bosnia, Victor Jackovich, who has always opposed direct talks with the Bosnian Serbs until they accept the peace plan.
He was recalled to Washington Wednesday for what were officially described as "consultations."
"These are not consultations," said the official, who spoke on rTC condition of anonymity. "They have offered Mr. Jackovich another ambassadorship, and they are trying to ease him out because he opposes bringing the Serbs to the negotiating table in this way."
Charity Dennis, a State Department spokeswoman, said she had no information on why Ambassador Jackovich was in Washington at such a sensitive time in Bosnia. Mr. Jackovich did not respond to two calls to his Virginia home.
Charles H. Thomas, the U.S. envoy to Bosnian peace negotiations, carried out the new U.S. policy yesterday by going to the Bosnian Serb stronghold at Pale and meeting with their leader, Radovan Karadzic. The change in policy was announced Thursday in a letter from Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher to Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic.
In contrast to his previous visits to Bosnia, Mr. Thomas was not accompanied by officials from Russia, Britain, France and Germany, the countries that, with the United States, make up what diplomats call the "contact group."
Such visits to Pale were barred until last month, when cracks began to appear in the Clinton administration's policy of isolating the Bosnian Serbs until they accepted the contact group's peace plan.
Mr. Jackovich stood strongly behind this policy of using diplomatic isolation, military threats and economic pressure to compel the Bosnian Serbs to bend.
But on Thursday, the day after Mr. Jackovich was recalled to Washington, his deputy at the embassy, John Menzies, went to Pale for unpublicized talks with the Bosnian Serbs. "Yes, I went to Pale," Mr. Menzies said, but he declined to give further details.
It was on Thursday that Mr. Christopher's letter to President Izetbegovic arrived, explaining that the United States had decided "to resume a dialogue with Pale" because of the new opportunities afforded by a four-month cease-fire that went into effect Jan. 1.
Mr. Christopher's letter said the U.S. decision to engage the Bosnian Serbs in a dialogue was conditioned on the roads into Sarajevo being opened. The roads into this encircled city were still closed yesterday.
Mr. Thomas plans to go to Pale again today before the expected arrival in Sarajevo of his contact group colleagues. Thus the United States, in a sharp reversal of policy, has now taken the lead in talks with the Bosnian Serbs.