Summit ends with unity on airstrikes

NATO vows to protect nations surrounding Yugoslav war zone

Differences on ground war

Bombing continues, as does expulsion of ethnic Albanians

April 26, 1999|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- NATO allies concluded their 50th anniversary summit yesterday with a new pledge of military protection and economic aid to Yugoslavia's fragile neighbors, but they reached no clear agreement on how to ratchet up the pressure on Serbia beyond an intensified bombing campaign.

The 19-member NATO alliance "reaffirmed our determination repeatedly to intensify our actions, military and economic, until we achieve our objectives in Kosovo," President Clinton said yesterday evening. "On this, the alliance leaves Washington more united even than it was when we came here."

The summit, however, ended much the way it started: with stern statements of resolve to continue the air war over Yugoslavia, now in its 34th day, but with no significant changes in strategy. NATO leaders could not hide their differences over the introduction of ground troops or the interdiction of oil supplies heading for Serbia.

Still, holding the alliance together on the air campaign may have been the summit's main -- and most important -- objective.

"I anticipated that perhaps there might be cracks here or cracks there, or fault lines here or fault lines there," admitted National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger. "There were no fault lines when it came to whether the `ethnic cleansing' in Kosovo needed to be reversed. They stood as one."

Airstrikes continue

NATO warplanes again knocked Serbian television off the air, temporarily, while striking airfields, fuel storage depots, highway and railroad bridges, artillery and armored personnel carriers. A second wave of Apache tank-killing helicopters swooped into Albania yesterday to bolster the air campaign's firepower.

And after visiting troops in Albania, Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO's supreme commander, again declared that the alliance is winning its campaign against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Yet for all the upbeat military assessments and stern political pronouncements, Milosevic's campaign to rid Kosovo of the ethnic Albanians that once made up 90 percent of its population continues. Kosovo refugees reaching Macedonia yesterday told relief workers of Serbian paramilitaries entering villages, ordering residents out of their homes and opening fire on them.

The rebel Kosovo Liberation Army gave a rare news conference in Albania to appeal to NATO for arms and to ask that the United States' 24 Apache helicopters in Albania be sent into combat immediately. While NATO military and political leaders pledged to deploy the Apaches soon, they remained opposed to arming the rebel KLA, despite the continuing slaughter.

"As long as there are Serb paramilitaries in Kosovo, there will continue to be `ethnic cleansing,' " conceded NATO spokesman Jamie Shea. "There will be massacres, rapes, shootings and the whole thing will go on."

Jackson to go to Belgrade

In the absence of diplomatic progress, White House aides confirmed that the Rev. Jesse Jackson was preparing to lead a delegation of Protestant and Orthodox clergy members to Belgrade as early as this week, to work for the release of three captured U.S. servicemen and to probe for solutions to the crisis.

President Clinton spoke with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin by telephone for nearly an hour to try to soothe Russian concerns about the bombing, and to encourage Russian efforts to continue mediation. And Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott left for Moscow to discuss diplomatic efforts with Russia's envoy to the Balkans, Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Yeltsin and the Russians are "very serious about trying to find a peaceful solution," Berger told CNN. "President Clinton encouraged President Yeltsin to do so and I think there will be continuing contacts over the days ahead."

Yet efforts to go beyond the air war -- either militarily or diplomatically -- appear to be stymied, at least for now. Even German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who has led efforts to find a diplomatic solution, said yesterday that his call for a meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrial powers on Kosovo will not be held until Russia moves closer to NATO's position on the conflict.

The bombing campaign now seems to be the lowest common denominator for a fractious alliance that cannot agree on how to stop oil shipments into Yugoslavia, much less how to mount a ground-force invasion of the devastated Serbian province of Kosovo.

Sending a message

The NATO summit could show Milosevic what British Foreign Minister Robin Cook called "a clear platform to send the loud message to Belgrade of our determination to prevail."

"It is quite possible that President Milosevic thought this summit would shatter into 19 pieces," said British Defense Minister George Robertson. "If so, the smile on his face must have been wiped off."

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