New Moral Dilly Over Bosnia

From Paris's viewpoint, the US's inaction over Bosnian peace plan has allowed war to drag on

AT a meeting with the American press just before January's NATO summit, French President Francois Mitterrand's spokesman highlighted the ``good climate of understanding'' reigning between Western Europe - and specifically France - and the United States.

``There are no real problems,'' said the spokesman, Jean Musitelli, noting NATO's agreement on the Partnership for Peace to be offered to the new democracies of Eastern Europe, and French interest in new US proposals for giving European members of NATO greater responsibility in operations.

That was before the fly of Bosnia-Herzegovina fell into the ointment.

Late January saw one of the sharpest diplomatic exchanges ever between officials in Paris and Washington - even for two capitals that have a long history of some real dillies. The topic of the heated repartee was what the West should do to stop the bloodshed in Bosnia.

Paris, in effect, asked Washington to put pressure on Bosnia's Muslims to accept now the European Union (EU) peace plan that calls for carving the independent state into three autonomous republics. Short of that, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said, the war threatened to intensify, and Washington would share in the responsibility for having failed to prevent worse carnage when there was still time.

Washington, through State Department spokesman Mike McCurry, accused France of a ``very strange moral calculus'' that called for tying the hands of the war's main victims, the Muslims, at the very moment when they have started to win back some lost territory.

``If we are talking on a moral level,'' retorted Foreign Ministry spokesman Richard Duque, ``the choice today is between merely watching the fighting and doing everything possible to stop it.'' To which Secretary of State Warren Christopher replied, ``The US is not standing by, by any means.''

Et cetera.

Behind the recriminations lies a growing French foreboding that the stage is even now being set for a devastating and dangerous military denouement to the Bosnian conflict that could make the horrors that have already occurred there pale in comparison.

That worry is augmented by fears that the US, the only power that could make a difference, is turning away in indifference.

From the Parisian viewpoint, the pieces accumulating on the stage range from growing signs of preparations on the ground for an imminent Serbian general offensive, to building pressure at home for a total withdrawal of the 6,500 blue helmets France has in Bosnia.

``We can hear the noise of the boots from here,'' says a Foreign Ministry official of signs pointing to intensifying military activity.

France wants to give negotiation whatever chance remains of stopping the war - its officials recoil from suggestions in the domestic press that France's recent diplomatic offensive is just a cynical effort to sound tough for the home audience when officials know that neither the EU nor the US is prepared to intervene in the conflict.

``We have more men on the ground than anyone and have already suffered some 20 deaths, so we don't want to hear talk of cynicism,'' says a French presidential aide. ``We're against the danger, and the cynicism, of letting this war take its course.''

France says it is studying new proposals to take to a meeting of EU foreign ministers Feb. 7, three days before the warring parties return to the negotiating table in Geneva.

In the meantime, the country that for so many years has worked to see the day when the US would leave more of the Old Continent's security burden to the Europeans themselves may be lamenting that, sometimes, dreams do come true.

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