Allies accept U.N. deal

Bombing to cease soon after Serbs begin to withdraw

Military talks resume

June 09, 1999|By Mark Matthews and Jonathan Weisman | Mark Matthews and Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The world's leading industrial nations agreed yesterday on a NATO-dominated, U.N.-backed peacekeeping force for Kosovo after the United States and its allies vowed to stop bombing Yugoslavia almost as soon as Serbian troops begin to withdraw.

The deal, and the pledge of a halt in the 73-day-old air war, brought the Yugoslav military back into talks with NATO generals over a Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo, from which Serbian forces drove out hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians.

A White House official predicted that the Serbs would begin withdrawing by this morning, opening the way for an end to the war and an indefinite American role in Kosovo peacekeeping.

Meeting in Cologne, Germany, top officials from the United States, Russia and six other leading nations approved a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for rapidly sending a peacekeeping force into Kosovo to guarantee the ethnic Albanians' safe return home. The expected 50,000 NATO troops will include about 7,000 Americans.

"The bottom line in assessing the last 24 hours here is that we got what we came for," Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said in Cologne.

The plan calls for all Serbian forces to begin a rapid pullout from Kosovo, followed quickly by a suspension of the allied bombing of Yugoslavia. Once the bombing stops, the U.N. Security Council would formally adopt the resolution that was drafted yesterday. This resolution authorizesthe peacekeeping force, which would move into areas vacated by the Serbs.

The agreement that NATO quickly halt its bombing once the Serbs begin to pull out represented a concession by the United States and its NATO allies. Previously, Western officials had said that before halting the bombing, they would verify the Serbs' withdrawal for about 48 hours to make sure the pullout was serious.

U.S. officials insist that if the Serbs begin their pullout and then stall, NATO would not hesitate to resume the air campaign.

"At any time, if it appears they're failing to meet their obligations, NATO reserves the right to resume our campaign, and I don't think we will hesitate to do that," said P. J. Crowley, a spokesman for the National Security Council. "This is a military that has sustained significant losses. They're not in any position to pick a fight with a very robust NATO force."

But for such a major step, NATO authorities would likely have to check with the political leadership of key allies, opening the possibility of a rift in the alliance that could delay or block a resumption of the bombing.

Ivo Daalder, a former National Security Council official who is now at the Brookings Institution, worries that it may be politically impossible for NATO to resume the bombing.

"The moment we turn it off, it's off -- permanently," he predicted.

Left uncertain in yesterday's agreement was what role Russia would play in the international security force. Moscow refuses to have its forces report to the NATO alliance. But U.S. officials said a face-saving formula could be worked out that provided for Russian participation, while ensuring NATO control of the peacekeeping operation.

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott will go to Moscow to negotiate the terms of Russian participation.

Western nations, particularly the United States, had insisted on NATO leadership of the security force. Without it, they said, the Kosovar refugees would not feel secure enough to return to their homes. Instead, Western officials feared, the refugees would remain in Macedonian and Albanian camps for the foreseeable future, creating a continuing source of instability.

To satisfy the Russians, the U.N. Security Council resolution virtually buries any references to NATO. It also gives the United Nations much of the authority to keep the peace in Kosovo and to govern the province. The reference to NATO is tucked into an annex to the draft resolution, which calls for "substantial NATO participation" and "unified command and control."

The peacekeepers' authority to use force is also virtually hidden. But U.S. officials say it provides all the authority required to enforce security in the province.

But the U.N. resolution would also give substantial authority to a civilian administration whose leader would be picked by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The civilian team, rather than NATO, would be in charge of ensuring the safe return of refugees. The resolution instructs the team to "coordinate closely" with the military operation.

That could be an invitation to misunderstandings and confusion, said Daniel Serwer, a Balkans analyst at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a former U.S. envoy to the Bosnian Federation.

"I will tell you this is pretty bad," Serwer said. "It's to be expected, but it's pretty bad."

In a victory for human rights activists, the resolution explicitly requires "full cooperation by all concerned, including the international security presence, with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia."

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