NATO tries to restart peace plan

Allies halt bombing of Belgrade, intensify other airstrikes

U.N. resolution sought

Russia objects to deal, but U.S. remains optimistic

June 08, 1999|By Mark Matthews and Tom Bowman | Mark Matthews and Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The West offered modest gestures to Belgrade yesterday in a bid to restart the Balkan peace process, but it ran into diplomatic resistance from Russia.

A day after the collapse of talks intended to arrange a Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo, the Western alliance eased up on its bombing campaign by putting the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade off-limits to NATO bombers while continuing strikes against targets elsewhere. In another concession, the allies said they were prepared to extend the deadline for a Serbian withdrawal, from one week to about nine days, diplomats said.

In Germany, foreign ministers of the world's seven leading industrial powers failed to secure Russia's agreement on the wording of a United Nations Security Council resolution that would authorize a NATO-led international security force for the province.

During the talks, President Clinton telephoned Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin in an effort to prevent Moscow's hard-line foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, from pushing a pro-Serb position. The talks are to resume today.

White House officials said they were optimistic that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will stick to the deal he accepted Thursday, when it was presented to him by Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, Moscow's envoy to the Balkans, and Martti Ahtisaari, president of Finland. In a telephone call, Milosevic assured Ahtisaari that he intended to carry out the agreement.

"I wouldn't characterize this in any way as a breakdown" in negotiations, said P. J. Crowley, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

Yesterday's wrangling showed that, far from being non-negotiable, NATO's take-it-or-leave-it terms put to Milosevic last week were open to discussion, in the military talks on the Yugoslav border and at the Group of Eight industrial powers' meeting outside Bonn, Germany.

The military talks on terms of the Serbian withdrawal broke down Sunday after Serbian military leaders balked at key elements of the peace plan that Milosevic had accepted. These elements include a total Serbian pullout from Kosovo and NATO's leadership of an international security force.

The collapse delayed the start of a Serbian pullout, as Serbian forces in Kosovo went on a looting spree, according to reports. NATO vowed to heighten pressure on Yugoslavia by intensifying the bombing, though a Western diplomat said this would be mostly "symbolic."

One Defense Department official said Belgrade was off-limits to attacks by NATO planes, at least for now.

50,000-strong force

The United States is eager to move a 50,000-strong security force into Kosovo -- including 7,000 American troops -- as soon as the Serbs pull out. The West is eager to prevent a chaotic power vacuum and to prepare for the return of hundreds of thousands of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian refugees in Macedonia and Albania.

Russia and some U.S. allies in NATO, including Germany, want the force to be sent in with the authority of the United Nations, so it has a basis in international law.

In Germany's case, its constitution requires U.N. sanction before it can contribute soldiers to the peacekeeping force.

The agreement with Belgrade reached last week calls for a separate civilian administration for Kosovo to be under the United Nations as well.

Russia protests plan

The G-8 foreign ministers sat down yesterday to draft a U.N. Security Council resolution. Russia, which holds a Security Council veto, raised several objections, and insisted that the bombing be halted before the resolution is approved, according to the Associated Press.

Speaking in Bonn, Ivanov asserted that last week's agreement required that a bombing halt occur simultaneously with the beginning of a Serbian withdrawal. But NATO disputes this interpretation, saying the alliance must see clear evidence of the withdrawal before a suspension of airstrikes.

Other points that Ivanov reportedly contested were: having NATO at the core of a Kosovo peacekeeping force; including a preamble referring to the war-crimes indictments of Milosevic and three other Yugoslav officials; and empowering peacekeepers to take "robust" measures to ensure peace.

Details of withdrawal

Administration officials said low-level talks between NATO and Yugoslav military officials continued apace at the border between Macedonia and Kosovo.

Those talks focused on the details of a withdrawal, such as the routes Serbian forces are to use, the sequencing of the pullout and the disposition of Serbian land mines. NATO has asked for help in locating and dismantling those mines, or, short of that, for detailed maps of where the mines were laid.

White House aides who were publicly skeptical last week appeared more confident yesterday that Milosevic had no choice but to bow to NATO's demands. National security aides said Milosevic may be buying time, hoping that internal political pressure in Russia would force Yeltsin's government to withdraw its support for last week's peace accord.

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