ZAGREB, CROATIA — AS NATO remained poised for further confrontation with Bosnian Serbs following its action against Serb positions around the besieged Bosnian enclave of Gorazde, the chances for an overall political settlement seemed to hang in the balance.
Diplomats say they were close to an overall cease-fire agreement in Bosnia when United States war planes, responding to the requests of United Nations personnel in Gorazde, provided close air support in the face of a fierce Bosnian Serb offensive on the town, 35 miles east of Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo.
Following the NATO airstrikes, Bosnian Serb leaders threatened to force the UN from Bosnia, break off peace talks, and widen the war.
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic accused the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) of siding with the Bosnian Muslims and said all contacts with UNPROFOR had been suspended. (Latest US policy toward Bosnia, Page 8.)
Mr. Karadzic was to meet April 12 with US Special Envoy Charles Redman, Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin, and Yasushi Akashi, the special UN representative for Yugoslavia, according to Yugoslavia's Tanjug news agency.
On April 10, two US F-16 jets bombed a Bosnian Serb command post outside Gorazde.
When Bosnian Serbs continued to attack on April 11, two US Marine FA-18 warplanes bombed at least two armored personnel carriers and a truck with a weapon mounted on the back.
Prior to that, Karadzic had agreed to reverse 20 percent of Serb gains made on Bosnian territory. But on April 11, he appeared to renege on that offer. His forces now control 70 percent of the republic, but Bosnian Muslims have insisted on territorial concessions.
Karadzic also said that Gorazde and two other Muslim-controlled safe areas in eastern Bosnia - Srebrenica and Zepa - were non-negotiable and indicated his army planned to conquer them.
``We shall no longer negotiate about areas where our boys are dying,'' he said. ``The Muslim side has opted for war instead of peace and will therefore be forced to accept the results of war,'' he said.
Western officials have said they hope the show of force will lead the Serbs back to peace talks, suspended since April 10.
``If this [NATO airstrikes] continues, we will be forced to answer in the manner an army should,'' Karadzic warned April 11, saying his troops could ``shoot down the planes.''
NATO Secretary-General Manfred Woerner warned against revenge attacks. So far, he said, NATO had used only a few of the more than 100 aircraft at its disposal.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Croatia talks on normalization of economic ties between Croatia and rebel Serbs from the Krajina region, scheduled for April 12 in Zagreb, were postponed.
Negotiators were hoping that Croatia's minority Serbs and the Zagreb government would soon come to a solution on possible autonomy for Serbs in the Krajina, an agreement diplomats say is key to an overall political settlement in the former Yugoslavia.
But the US Ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, who visited Knin, the Croatian Serb capital of Krajina on April 11, was greeted with a cold response when he met with Krajina's self-styled Serb President Milan Martic.
In Knin, Mr. Martic allegedly lodged a formal complaint regarding the NATO attacks with Mr. Galbraith and accused the US of ``engaging in the same kind of behavior as Hitler,'' diplomatic sources said.
The two-week-long Serb action, which has brought Bosnian Serb forces within a mile of Gorazde's city center, has killed 156 people and wounded 646 in the besieged enclave of 65,000.
THE UN, fearful that the attack would be viewed, in essense, as coming to the rescue of the Bosnian Muslims, cloaked the defense of Gorazde in rhetoric that implied that NATO was seeking merely to protect its 12 UN military observers in the city who were at risk.
But Galbraith said the UN was also defending the legitimacy of the UN, which has named six cities in Bosnia, including Goradze, ``safe zones.''
``Gorazde is a safe area, and the Serbs are not supposed to shell it,'' Galbraith said.
``If the same Serbian behavior continues, it will invariably be met with the same response,'' Galbraith added.
NATO used only four of the 100 planes at its disposal. UN officials said the attack was limited because it was intended only to bring the warring parties back to the negotiating table.
But now the UN is caught in the difficult position of talking tough with the Bosnian Serbs while simultaneously trying to lure them back to the negotiating table.
``The hope is that the Serbs will get the message, but I don't know how long it will take for these guys to get an education,'' Galbraith said.