BOSNIAN President Alija Izetbegovic told Vice President-elect Al Gore Jr. and Clinton transition team officials this weekend that the West had so far "done very little" to help his besieged country and that he may soon accept military help from the Islamic world.
Such help, which seems likely to include troops, advisers, and equipment from countries such as Turkey and Iran, would add a new dimension to the crisis, given centuries of Turkish domination in the region. But because of "the genocide we have suffered I must try to help our people," Izetbegovic told reporters here Friday during a whirlwind visit to the United States.
Underscoring his message, Izetbegovic yesterday flew to Dakar, Senegal, in Turkish President Turgut Ozal's plane to attend a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference that has been convened to discuss humanitarian and military aid to Bosnia. The Muslim nations are likely to reiterate their call for United Nations intervention in the Balkans. 5,000 troops
But Izetbegovic will also be offered at least 5,000 troops, probably Iranian, who are ready to be sent to Bosnia immediately, according to Turkish sources in Washington. Acceptance of the troops will depend on the progress of the UN peace talks under way in Geneva, sources near Izetbegovic said.
The status of the Geneva talks remains unclear following brutal murder by Serb soldiers of Bosnian Deputy Prime Minister Hakija Turajlic. Turajlic was shot Friday after his UN convoy was hijacked by Serb forces. He was returning from an airport meeting with Turkish officials.
According to members of Bosnia's mission to the US, Mr. Gore, who met with Izetbegovic for 40 minutes on Friday, expressed anger with the Bosnian Serbs and the Serb government in Belgrade and said many in the next administration wanted to "do something" about the crisis.
After eight months of inaction on Bosnia, Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger last month toughened his rhetoric on the issue, and President Bush warned Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic not to allow the war to spread to the neighboring province of Kosovo. But the Bosnians think they have reason to hope the new administration will bring a firmer resolve. Gore, for instance, interrupted a busy transition weekend and flew from Texas to New York to see the Bosnian leader. Rep. Les Aspin (D) of Colorado, the
Secretary of Defense-designate, said Thursday the US should push to lift the UN arms embargo on Bosnia.
But analysts warn that these comments may not reflect the foreign policy consensus of the new administration. Gore's spokeswoman, Marla Romesh, said the vice president-elect found the meeting an opportunity "to listen and learn."
In a Monitor interview while in Washington, Izetbegovic also said he expected the Croatian regime of Franjo Tudjman not to reinvite the UN peacekeepers in that country when the UN mandate runs out in March: "They want the UN out, and we support them in this regard. We wish them well in their efforts to take back the land inside their borders." Serbian forces captured 30 percent of Croatian land in 1991.
Izetbegovic also said he was under pressure in Geneva to offer amnesty to all Serbian prisoners, regardless of their status. He will resist this request however. "There are two categories - ordinary prisoners, and war criminals. We will give amnesty to prisoners, but nothing will make us give up war criminals."
The Bosnian president's trip to the US, sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, combined elements of controversy, desperation, and tragedy. Showing signs of strain from a grueling schedule and chaos in his government and struggling with a leg ailment, Izetbegovic came to the US to elaborate on the genocide in Bosnia and to state how far the government in Sarajevo is willing to compromise on the Geneva peace plan.
Yet the trip became controversial when the New York Times reported that Cyrus Vance, who with Britain's Lord Owen is attempting to mediate a solution to the Bosnian war on behalf of the United Nations, had called both Mr. Eagleburger and Secretary of State-designate Warren Christopher, asking them not to meet with Izetbegovic. Mr. Vance publicly expressed displeasure with the Bosnian leader's trip, saying it could harm the peace process.
Vance's comments were disparaged by some US officials, though others point out that Vance has much influence in the State Department. He is considered Mr. Christopher's mentor. One official said privately that Vance is "attempting to tell the world that `I alone will run this show.' "
George Kenney, Yugoslav desk officer for the State Department until he resigned in August over policy differences, says, "Vance is not dealing with Izetbegovic as though he is a head of government. He believes the Bosnians have lost the war and that he can prevent Izetbegovic from meeting with other heads of state, as though he doesn't have the right to talk with anyone he wants."
Izetbegovic described to reporters the pressure he has been put under by Owen and Vance to negotiate directly with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, recently named a war criminal by the State Department - against popular sentiment in Sarajevo. Warning from Vance
"If I didn't, I was told I would bear the responsibility for the loss of peace and the failure of negotiations," he added. When asked by the Monitor, Izetbegovic said the warning was communicated to him "directly by Mr. Owen and Mr. Vance."
The peace plan put forward by Vance and Owen, which divides Bosnia into 10 cantons along ethnic lines, is a substantial backtrack from positions taken for ten months by the international community, including the UN Security Council, the European Community, and the US State Department. Under these previous standards, settlements would have required the Bosnian Serb military to be "subordinated" to the Bosnian government, and to withdraw, or disarm; ethnic criteria could not determine canton borders.
Yet the Bosnian government is willing to accept the Vance-Owen plan provided lines dividing the 10 cantons do not reward "ethnic cleansing," Izetbegovic said. The other compromise required of Serbs "is to remove heavy weapons from Sarajevo and put them under UN control," he added.
So far, the Serbs have been unwilling to take this step, though one US official says they may agree to this request on paper and not actually follow through. Message hits home
One of Izetbegovic's messages that hit home hardest, according to diplomat Landrum Bolling, who has worked as a private US envoy to the Palestinians, was his reminder that the West promised twice to send humanitarian aid "by all necessary means," according to the Security Council resolution. Yet so far only one in 10 UN convoys have gotten through Serb lines. "We have not even followed through on that basic promise," Mr. Bolling said. "Let's get honest about this part of our responsibility."
Senior Carnegie Endowment fellow Alriza Bulent says the West has no shown sign so far of recognizing how seriously the Islamic world has taken the Bosnian crisis for the past several months. "It is the number one issue in any newspaper or radio news program."
As an example he cites a Jan. 5 TV broadcast in Turkey when Deniz Baykal, a very moderate leader of the center-left Social Democrats broke down and cried on camera following a trip to Sarajevo, and said, "We must intervene."
Izetbegovic, for his part, when interviewed here by the Muslim Broadcast Network, the CNN of the Arab world, broke out of the polite tone he had used with Western reporters and bluntly stated: "I am not optimistic that the next US administration will help us. I ask for continued political support and for military and financial support from the Muslim countries if peace negotiations fail."