Too many diplomats could spoil negotiations with Milosevic

Russia, U.N. and NATO are engaged in missions

War In Yugoslavia

May 17, 1999|By NEWSDAY

WASHINGTON -- From a distance, diplomacy to end the Kosovo crisis is beginning to look like a jumble of diplomats -- with three missions under way and no sign that any can narrow the gap with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

First on stage was Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, the former Russian prime minister, appointed by President Boris N. Yeltsin as special envoy.

Then U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Karl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, and Eduard Kukan, a former Slovak foreign minister. Partly out of pique that Annan appointed Bildt, whom officials say is difficult to work with, the United States asked Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari to represent NATO interests in talks with Milosevic.

The main problem for all three missions is that NATO has announced non-negotiable positions that Milosevic has rejected. These call for Milosevic to withdraw all of his security forces from Kosovo -- Milosevic claims to have 100,000 troops, although NATO lists only 40,000 -- and allow an international security force with NATO troops at its core to take their place. One U.S. official says NATO's terms amount to an "unconditional surrender" by Milosevic.

"What we're looking for is the acceptance of the unchanging and unchangeable NATO conditions for a peaceful resolution of this situation," said State Department spokesman James P. Rubin. "And we have not seen that yet."

Another problem will be to sort out which of the envoys does what, with whom and when, and if any of the three can be effective. Chernomyrdin might appear to be the natural negotiator, for he has trust and good personal relations with Vice President Al Gore and other top Clinton aides, and Russia has historic ties with Yugoslavia. After Chernomyrdin's visit to Washington two weeks ago, Russia came much closer to accepting NATO's demands on Milosevic.

But U.S. officials point out that Russia is again in political turmoil and that the unpredictable Yeltsin could fire Chernomyrdin at a moment's notice. NATO's inadvertent bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, has led to a hardening of demands by China and Russia for a pause in NATO bombing before negotiations begin. NATO has rejected all such demands.

The underlying problem that Russia faces is the problem that NATO faces -- Milosevic's defiance. Other Russian envoys, such as former Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, have gotten nothing out of Belgrade, and there is no sign that Chernomyrdin will.

Meanwhile, Bildt, the independent-minded Swedish official who was the first international high commissioner in Bosnia after the arrival of NATO troops, is likely to be stymied by the United States should he attempt to mediate with Milosevic. U.S. aides say Bildt will be welcome to assist in some ancillary role, such as helping set up civilian administration in Kosovo if and when NATO forces arrive there.

The third envoy, Ahtisaari, is a veteran of one of the United Nation's biggest successes, the transition to Namibia's independence, followed by his high-profile role in the United Nations' biggest failure, the attempt to mediate the Bosnia-Herzegovina war. There is irony that he has received the U.S. nod as chief Western representative, for Ahtisaari is associated with the "dual key" policy established by Annan's predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, under which the United Nations had a veto over NATO intervention in Bosnia.

The specter haunting NATO's Kosovo intervention is Bosnia -- specifically, its failure to halt the war, partly because the Western alliance allowed itself to be put in a position of rivalry with the United Nations. The major problem in the diplomacy to date is that several of the players openly favor setting up a similar "dual key" arrangement.

Russia has moved closer to NATO on many issues connected with sending in a force, but the main difference is its insistence on giving "as much control over this as possible" to the U.N. Security Council, a U.S. official said. That amounts to a "dual key," which aides in Washington say is out of the question. It is also the position of China and clearly would be preferred by Milosevic.

Another question is who will travel to Belgrade to see Milosevic first. The State Department denied a Russian report Saturday that Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, now in Europe to coordinate efforts with Chernomyrdin, Ahtisaari, Annan and Bildt, will go to Belgrade sometime soon.

Pub Date: 5/17/99

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