Clinton Team Weighs Next Steps in Bosnia

HAVING forced an end to the shelling of Sarajevo, at least for now, the Clinton administration is hesitantly considering whether to extend NATO protection to other besieged areas of Bosnia.

Such a second step would mean yet deeper Western involvement in the Balkans war - something reluctant NATO allies may not support. It would also risk pushing well-armed Bosnian Serbs into an aggrieved, defensive posture, while giving Bosnian Muslims hope that the West would roll back Serb gains.

Yet the moral logic of an expansion of NATO involvement currently appears unassailable. A credible NATO threat of force has brought Sarajevo the first warm breeze of normalcy it has felt in two years. Why would Zepa, Gorazde, Tuzla, and other besieged Muslim towns not qualify for such aid?

``The challenge ... is to build on this week's progress and create a lasting and workable peace for all the people of Bosnia,'' said President Clinton at a short press conference Feb. 21.

As it has at each step of the Bosnian crisis, the Pentagon is the arm of US government that sounds least enthusiastic about deeper involvement. Any extension of NATO guarantees is ``certainly weeks away,'' said Defense Secretary William Perry.

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