Croatia Gets the US In Deep

PRESIDENT Franjo Tudjman talks of Germany and the United States as Croatia's major allies. The American government, with backstage German help, has brokered a deal to keep a United Nations force, including a token American contingent, in Croatia on terms that the Croatian Serbs have rejected; and thus, the US, which long insisted that the Yugoslav conflict was a European problem, has become a key player.

Mr. Tudjman played his hand skillfully by threatening to oust the UN protective force. Raising fears of a wider war starting with an assault on the Croatian Serbs, he won the promise of a scaled-down UN force consisting largely of Western troops, some of them stationed on the Croatian border with Serbia, and thus dividing Serbian communities. He also has the pledge of economic aid for the embryonic Croatian-Bosnian Federation. And thus, while Russia and France continue to court Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and seek an easing of UN sanctions against him, Germany, and now the US, are lining up behind Croatia and Bosnia and against the Serbs.

Tudjman got himself a photo opportunity with Vice President Al Gore in Copenhagen, but this delicate deal, in terms of American initiative, is largely the work of Ambassadors Peter Galbraith in Zagreb and Victor Jacovich in Sarajevo, backed up by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke. Tudjman is now scoring points with his people by telling them that the US has committed itself to leading the way in further negotiations with the UN.

This choosing of sides is, in a sense, a logical consequence of President Clinton's determination that the Serbs are the aggressors. It was probably no accident that a CIA report blaming the Serbs for 90 percent of the ethnic-cleansing atrocities was leaked last week as negotiations with Croatia were nearing their climax.

Those in Congress, like Sen. Bob Dole, who say that America must pursue its own foreign-policy interests and not delegate them to others, may be pleased to see the Clinton administration sticking a unilateral toe into turgid Balkan waters. But for weal or for woe, America is now deeply involved.

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