Clinton reacts cautiously to Serbs' actions

President, Joint Chiefs discuss military options, including ground invasion

War In Yugoslavia

June 04, 1999|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton -- seemingly on the verge of a major triumph -- reacted cautiously yesterday to Yugoslavia's apparent capitulation to NATO demands, even moving forward with high-level planning for a ground invasion of Kosovo.

Clinton welcomed what he called "movement by the Serbian leadership" to accept NATO's conditions, including the stationing of a NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo and significant autonomy for Serbia's rebellious province. But he vowed to "continue the military effort that has brought us to this point" until NATO sees concrete evidence of a withdrawal of Serbian forces.

To underscore that resolve, Clinton met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday afternoon to discuss the peacekeeping force that could soon enter Kosovo and plans for an invasion, should the Serbs renege on their promised withdrawal.

Since the air war began on March 24, Clinton has resolutely opposed sending in ground troops without a peace agreement. But with one seemingly at hand, White House aides say, the president's newfound resolve will help maintain the pressure on Milosevic.

"We have some encouraging news on Kosovo," Clinton said in a Rose Garden appearance, "but we should be cautious, and we should see real results."

White House aides harbor a deep distrust for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who was indicted on war crimes charges last week, but who nonetheless holds the key to any diplomatic settlement of the 2 1/2-month conflict in Kosovo. They fear that Milosevic could add conditions that would delay implementation of a peace accord, if not scuttle it altogether. They also worry that he could lull NATO into a pause in the bombing, knowing that it would be difficult for the fractious alliance to resume airstrikes.

And that fear dampened any sense of relief that an increasingly unpopular military campaign could soon be concluding largely on U.S. terms.

"I'm not going to gloat," said national security adviser Samuel R. Berger. "We've been dealing with this guy for a long time."

Nonetheless, Clinton aides were quietly expressing relief, if not elation. Even if the Yugoslav overture falls through, they said, it clearly shows that Milosevic is ready to sue for peace, despite the constant carping from critics that NATO's air war would not be sufficient.

"We've been saying for weeks that the air campaign was having an effect," said National Security Council spokesman David Leavy. "Our strategy has been diplomacy backed by force, and we've carried that out."

On its face, the terms of the accord appear to be a clear victory for the White House. Leavy said the deal offers Milosevic less than what he would have gotten if he had signed on to terms proposed at Rambouillet, France, in March, which would have allowed tens of thousands of Serbian troops to remain in Kosovo.

Pub Date: 6/04/99

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.