AN important new chapter in the peace talks on Bosnia-Herzegovina begins here this week.
Even as the Clinton administration is trying to decide on its promised new diplomatic initiative on Bosnia, mediators Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen are taking steps to involve the United Nations Security Council more directly in the peace negotiations.
The brokers moved the talks to New York last week after a five-month effort in Geneva won only the Bosnian Croats over to the full plan. Yet all three Bosnian factions support the plan's constitutional principles. Negotiators have said agreement is "very close" on the full plan, which includes a cease-fire and the division of Bosnia into 10 autonomous, multi-ethnic provinces.
This morning Mr. Vance and Lord Owen will lay out their peace plan, and the status of responses to it, before all 15 members of the Council for the first time. The mediators hope member governments will help to nudge the parties toward agreement, or that the Council will collectively encourage or step up the pressure on reluctant parties in a final push for the plan's acceptance.
Leaders of the warring factions filed in and out of the UN all weekend for individual conferences with the Vance-Owen team. In ongoing jockeying for position, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic presented an alternative to the Vance-Owen map over the weekend. Negotiators promised to share the proposal with the other two sides but said it offered no productive starting point.
Time and again, as such maps have been put forward without getting broader support, talks have fallen back to the Vance-Owen plan. The plan, which has the support of the European Community and Russia but not the US, is "the only rational proposal out there," Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban said Saturday. Fred Eckhard, spokesman for the UN-European Community negotiating team, said the hope was for all three factions to sign onto the plan by today's Council meeting. "I can't tell you they are speeding towa rd that goal," he conceded over the weekend.
Almost as soon as the talks moved to New York, Clinton administration officials began to voice strong reservations. They said the plan was unfair to Bosnian Muslims and might prove unenforceable. Both Serb and Muslim leaders from Bosnia have since hardened their positions. Defending the plan
Mr. Vance and Lord Owen say their plan may not be ideal but is the best compromise possible. They say it restores to the Muslims some of the areas hardest hit by ethnic cleansing and penalizes the Serbs who would get neither a land corridor to Serbia nor a state within a state. They would get 43 percent of Bosnia's land rather than the 70 percent they now control. Under the plan the three ethnic groups would each account for the majority of the population in three provinces. Sarajevo would be jointly adm inistered.
The great unknown at this writing is the nature of the new approach the Clinton administration will bring to the problem. Everything from stepped-up humanitarian aid and a new map, to the dispatch of a special US envoy to the talks, has been mentioned. Late last week, US officials said the use of military force, a move Bosnian Muslims and other Muslim nations have long urged, is not under consideration now. Little change likely
Kenneth Jensen, a specialist on Eastern Europe with the US Institute of Peace, says he expects to see no dramatic change in US policy on Bosnia. "The real options are exceedingly limited," he says. "I can't tell you that everyone is sitting down together behind the scenes ... but I think the community of interests is much stronger than it appears."
Still, John Ruggie, dean of the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, insists there are a number of reasons not to like the Vance-Owen plan. They range from the concept of cantonization, which the US has long opposed, to the difficulty of making the agreement stick. He asks, "Who is going to monitor all the boundaries around the 10 provinces and how long do they have to stay?"
Most analysts say enforcing the Vance-Owen plan would require at least 15,000 to 25,000 ground troops and considerable air power. Lord Owen recommends the involvement of NATO, including US troops. NATO enforcement
"Until and unless NATO gets involved there's very little chance of making any plan [for Bosnia] stick," says Alan Henrikson, a diplomatic historian at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. "I think NATO is the great stabilizing force in dealing with European security problems generally right now ... and this is a way by which the US could be involved directly but not alone."
President Clinton is to meet today with Turgut Ozal, president of Turkey, the nation that currently chairs the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
President Ozal is expected to tell Clinton that any effort to freeze territory now would put Bosnian Muslims at a marked disadvantage. Ozal is likely to urge that the UN arms embargo be lifted to allow the Muslims to fight back and that air strikes be launched against Serb violators of the UN ban on military flights over Bosnia.
Still, there appears to be little support in the Security Council for either move at the moment and US officials know it. For now the Council's moves on Bosnia are likely to focus more specifically on the negotiations process.