Good cop, bad cop on Serbia Peace move: Yeltsin persuades Milosevic to moderate while U.S. displays air power.

June 17, 1998

THE KOSOVO problem is not solved. Just possibly, the war between Albanian rebels and Serbian forces will abate. If so, credit would go to a strange alliance between the United States and Russia, based on their open disagreements.

Yugoslavia's President Slobodan Milosevic reneged on negotiating with Ibrahim Rugova, the elected leader of the Albanian majority in Kosovo province. As a result, the Kosovo Liberation Army sprang up, launching rebellion with weapons procured across the border in Albania.

In responding to these provocations, Mr. Milosevic's army leveled Albanian villages and drove out their populations.

This ethnic cleansing shocked the world while failing to inconvenience the KLA.

Britain talked tough while the United States led Western allies in demonstrations of air power. Serbia's strongman, Mr. Milosevic, went to Moscow to talk to President Boris Yeltsin, who had denounced Western forces and threats of force in Yugoslavia.

But Mr. Yeltsin agrees with President Clinton that Serbia should honor Kosovo's elections, negotiate autonomy and restore Albanian cultural freedom. The deal Mr. Yeltsin wrung out of Mr. Milosevic yesterday contains much of what the West wants.

The catch is that there is no assurance the KLA will cease fire or reduce activities, or that Mr. Milosevic will withdraw forces.

Mr. Milosevic has a history of making concessions only as long as the outside world is watching and succumbing to threats only if he finds them credible.

Still, the good-cop, bad-cop routine of Washington and Moscow has brought the only hope in the Kosovo crisis. Previously, it worked to defuse the Western standoff with Iraq's strongman, Saddam Hussein. But it is unlikely to provide a lasting solution.

Pub Date: 6/17/98

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