NATO commander seeks 50,000 troops to increase the pressure on Milosevic

U.S. general would deploy force on Kosovo borders, says air war might not win

War In Yugoslavia

May 21, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- NATO's commander, Gen. Wesley K. Clark, told Pentagon leaders yesterday that the alliance must begin soon to assemble a force of 45,000 to 50,000 troops on Kosovo's borders, U.S. and NATO officials said.

The force would be intended to increase pressure on President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia to accept NATO's terms for a settlement. It is one of three things -- including the use of Apache attack helicopters in Albania and tougher steps to cut off Yugoslavia's supply of oil -- that Clark sought to bolster the military campaign. In conversations with U.S. officials, he warned that NATO might not prevail with air power alone.

"If you prepare for ground forces, among other things, you make Milosevic contemplate the consequences of not going along with the political objectives" of NATO's campaign, one official said, describing Clark's message.

The proposal to move ahead with the deployment came as diplomatic efforts to forge a solution were developing on several fronts.

Russia's envoy to the Balkans, Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, met outside Moscow yesterday with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland.

Chernomyrdin had just returned from talks with Milosevic in Belgrade, where Goran Matic, an influential minister without portfolio, said: "I think we can expect a political settlement in the next week."

The diplomacy and Clark's visit to Washington -- his first since NATO's summit here a month ago -- came at a time of divisions within NATO about the course of the war.

In Washington and other capitals, political pressure has grown to end the conflict. This week, Britain called on NATO to do basically what Clark is proposing: build up allied forces in Albania and Macedonia as a way to increase pressure on Milosevic. After President Clinton declined to rule out ground troops on Tuesday, Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, bluntly derided the use of ground troops and said his country would block NATO from fighting on the ground.

The force Clark is recommending would be intended to enter Kosovo only after the bombing ended, officials here said. The deployment of the force, which would need the approval of NATO's 19 members, would leave open the option of a ground invasion should the air campaign fail.

Yesterday, Clinton said the alliance needed to stay "focused and patient" while it pursued its goal: allowing Kosovo's ethnic Albanians to return to their villages and live with a degree of autonomy.

"I believe the campaign is working," he said. "Each day we hear reports of desertions in the Serbian army, dissension in Belgrade, unrest in Serbian communities. President Milosevic should know that he cannot change the fundamental terms that we have outlined, because they are simply what is required for the Kosovars to go home and live in peace."

Clinton spoke after meeting at the White House with his national security advisers to discuss NATO's progress.

Clark spent the day across the Potomac River in meetings at the Pentagon with Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Henry H. Shelton; the vice chairman, Gen. Joseph Ralston, and the senior officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

While NATO and the Pentagon have portrayed the campaign as a success, Clark provided a more sober assessment of its status and prospects, officials familiar with the meetings said. While Clark said nearly two months of bombing had exacted a heavy toll on Yugoslavia's armed forces, he warned that it might not be enough to force Milosevic to relent.

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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