THIS could be a make-or-break week for peace talks on Bosnia-Herzegovina.
As the United States began airdropping relief supplies over eastern Bosnia, talks were set to resume today at the United Nations. But the mediators say it will be very difficult to convene future talks if this round fails to produce an accord between the three factions warring in Bosnia.
"We don't expect to have [Bosnian Serb leader Radovan] Karadzic and [Bosnian President Alija] Izetbegovic here for more than just a few days," says Fred Eckhard, UN spokesman for the negotiating team. Though conceding that the "political moment must be right," Mr. Eckhard says mediators Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen "expect to press very hard to see if it will be at all possible to get an agreement."
New direct involvement by the United States and Russia is considered key. Much depends on whether Washington intends to revamp either of the two maps now on the table and on how hard both the US and Russia are prepared to lean on Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Serb leaders respectively to accept a compromise.
Persuading the leaders of Bosnia's three factions to come to New York was no small feat. It required a joint appeal by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and President Clinton.
Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban, who has accepted all three parts of the peace plan proposed by UN envoy Vance and Lord Owen, the European Community negotiator, was the first to arrive.
Mr. Karadzic, the subject of a class-action human rights suit in the US, preferred to meet in Geneva. Mr. Izetbegovic, who declined to come to New York for the previous round last month and did not allow his representative to negotiate with the rival sides, came this time only by way of Washington and an invitation to visit Vice President Al Gore Jr.
The maps now on the table, both developed by Vance and Owen, divide Bosnia into 10 multi-ethnic provinces under a weak central government. The newer map, developed since the talks were moved from Geneva to New York Feb. 1, gives slightly more land to the Bosnian Muslims than the earlier version. The maps call for porous borders around provinces and at least six internationally protected throughways.
Russia, which has close religious and ethnic ties to the Serbs, laid out a new eight-point peace plan last week that included a call for swift adoption by all parties of the Vance-Owen plan. Moscow also called for an immediate cease-fire, tougher UN monitoring of the arms embargo on Bosnia, an end to UN economic sanctions on Serbia if Bosnian Serbs sign an agreement, and imposition of sanctions on Croatia if the fighting continues there.
President Clinton has said he hopes the US parachute drop of relief supplies to isolated towns in Bosnia will improve the climate for the talks. Yet the Clinton administration, which has argued that the Vance-Owen plan rewards Serb ethnic cleansing, is playing its own cards close to the vest. Reginald Bartholomew, US special envoy to the talks, has deliberately kept a low profile.
THE US shows no signs of any readiness to urge the Muslims to sign on to the agreement. But US officials say the administration has no map of its own and will build on the Vance-Owen map.
"Everybody knows that at best you can make very minor, marginal changes, at least on the territorial aspects," says Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a foreign policy and defense expert with the Brookings Institution. He says the US administration has noticeably softened its position between the campaign and the election. "Now the [US] conclusion seems to be that this [Vance-Owen plan] is far from ideal but is preferable ... to the kind of mayhem that's been going on [in Bosnia]."
The Clinton administration insists any agreement must be accepted by, rather than imposed on, the warring parties. Most analysts agree that the distinction is important. An estimated 25,000 to 60,000 troops would be needed to implement an accepted agreement, while enforcing an imposed agreement could require several hundred thousand troops.
Patrick Morgan, director of Global Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of California at Irvine, says he suspects that the Muslim-led Bosnian government is concerned that it might get into a situation in which world opinion would virtually force acceptance of the Vance-Owen plan. "I think the Muslims are afraid they're going to get mousetrapped into a situation in which they really don't have any choice," he says.
Even a peace plan voluntarily agreed to by all parties is likely to serve only as "an entrance ticket" to a substantial and long-term role by the world community in Bosnia, Mr. Sonnenfeldt says. He thinks the West may become involved in both policing and administration, and argues that US, Russian, and Ukrainian troops will be needed for the job.