Kosovo peace accord skirts NATO demands

Moscow cooperates isolates ally Serbia at cost of concessions

`Significant step forward'

Milosevic's ouster, Kosovo withdrawal, NATO role now murky

War In Yugoslavia

May 07, 1999|By Jonathan Weisman and Tom Bowman | Jonathan Weisman and Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Western leaders secured Russia's backing yesterday for the broad outlines of a Kosovo peace accord, further isolating Slobodan Milosevic even though President Clinton said for the first time that he could accept the Yugoslav president as a partner in a settlement.

Moscow's assent, though a victory of sorts for the West, carried a price. The agreement makes no reference to NATO soldiers in an international peacekeeping force. Previously, NATO had demanded that an armed mission in Kosovo be led by the alliance or at least include NATO troops at its "core."

The accord -- reached by the foreign ministers of the seven largest industrialized democracies and Russia -- also dropped a demand that all Serbian forces be withdrawn from Kosovo.

White House aides said that the United States had not dropped those demands but that the Group of Eight foreign ministers could not agree on them. "We have a long way to go," cautioned a senior administration official.

Still, Clinton embraced the accord as "a significant step forward," and at least a clear sign that momentum was on the side of a diplomatic settlement to the conflict.

His national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, insisted that "the Serbs have to see they are increasingly isolated."

To underscore that isolation, NATO leaders pledged that there would be no letup in the bombing of Yugoslavia, and the foreign ministers' agreement did not mention any pause in the 6-week-old campaign, as had been expected. That pause would have followed the beginning of a Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo.

The accord calls for an immediate end to the violence and repression in Kosovo; withdrawal of military and police forces; deployment of "effective international civil and security presences"; the safe return of all refugees; a move toward an autonomous Kosovo that would remain part of Yugoslavia; and the rebuilding of the entire Balkans region.

"Our struggle may be a long one," Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said. "The key to its end lies in Belgrade, not in Washington, Moscow or Bonn. But we will not falter, and we will not be divided.

The flurry of diplomatic initiatives and concessions appeared to signal a new urgency to end the crisis. Some administration officials are pushing Moscow's envoy for Kosovo, Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, to return to Belgrade as soon as this weekend to present the terms of a peace accord.

And Clinton explicitly sought Milosevic's aid in implementing that accord, though he and other Western leaders still insist the Yugoslav president is responsible for the atrocities and ethnic purges that have routed nearly 700,000 Kosovars from their homes.

U.S. and NATO officials have frequently likened Milosevic to modern history's most vicious leaders, such as Hitler and Pol Pot, and have suggested that there should be a new government in Belgrade.

Clinton's comments yesterday were the latest sign of White House eagerness for a negotiated settlement. Last week, Clinton held open the possibility of a bombing "pause" once Serbian troops began to leave Kosovo.

At a discussion with foreign journalists yesterday, the president rejected the assertion that peace could not be secured while Milosevic is still in power.

"The alternative," Clinton said, "would be something that no one has suggested, and that is that the international community, in effect, declare war on Yugoslavia and march on Belgrade. If that is not to happen, and our goals never entailed that then those goals can be achieved with an enforceable agreement with Mr. Milosevic in Belgrade."

Daniel Serwer, a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute for Peace and a former U.S. envoy to the Bosnian Federation, said the statement indicates that Clinton wants to ease the way for a diplomatic solution.

"That's part of the game here -- trying to signal Milosevic that he can stay," Serwer said. "You can deal with the devil, but if you do, you get what you deserve."

U.S. officials cautioned that the peace framework is far from complete. Berger said simply that "Russia is moving toward the NATO position."

Russian and NATO negotiators have not worked out the composition or size of a security force, the role of NATO in that force, whether any Serbian forces could remain behind, or the language of a United Nations Security Council resolution on Kosovo that Western leaders hope to secure soon.

And Russian leaders continued to send mixed signals. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov insisted that any NATO presence would be subject to Belgrade's agreement and that the issue of whether some Yugoslav troops could stay in Kosovo must be negotiated with Milosevic.

"It would be premature to speak of a breakthrough, but progress has been made," Ivanov told the Interfax news agency.

Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin refused to drop his bellicose rhetoric, saying, "NATO is carrying out naked aggression against a sovereign state -- Yugoslavia."

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