EC Ministers Resist Harder Line on Serbs

Europeans wait for US to take lead on military options

WHATEVER momentum is building in the United States for Western military intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina has run into fresh resistance as European Community foreign ministers made it clear over the weekend that they want to give economic sanctions more time to curb Serbian violence.

"The policy of the 12 [EC members] today is a policy of sanctions," said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, adding after a three-hour meeting with his colleagues, "There has been no pre-decision for military intervention."

Those words effectively summarized a two-day meeting ending April 25 that was expected to respond to President Clinton's statement Friday that the US "can get our European allies to go further" in halting Serbian aggression in Bosnia. In spite of a lengthy assessment of the different military options, the ministers chose to lob the ball back to the American court by emphasizing that the US was still undecided about what, if any, action to take.

"It's just the realism of the situation that anything military is going to be American-led," says a British government source, "and until they sort out the consultations they have going on, there's not going to be anything from Europe."

Britain anticipates a "European tour" by either US Secretary of State Warren Christopher or US special envoy to the Yugoslav crisis, Reginald Bartholomew, "about midweek," the British source says, to discuss any US decision or orientation. The ministers said they would "take stock" of the effectiveness of new sanctions at their monthly meeting May 10.

While no decisions had been expected of the ministers at what was billed as a "long-scheduled informal meeting," Europeans expecting something more forceful in the face of a deteriorating conflict were disappointed. "Today they are waiting for the Americans, next week it will be the Russians, after that they'll find something else," a German observer says. "These countries simply aren't for intervention."

Trying rather unconvincingly to sound a hard line on Serbian actions, Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen, who presided over the meeting, insisted that "no options for the future are excluded." But in reality the ministers appeared to narrow their list of military options to air strikes and establishment of safe havens.

No one suggested introducing ground troops - an option also ruled out by President Clinton - while lifting the international arms embargo to allow Bosnian Muslims to arm themselves was opposed by all but Germany. "We do not want a Pontius Pilate policy that amounts to saying, `We will arm you, and then stand back and watch you fight,' " Mr. Juppe said.

Various ministers cautioned that air strikes might mean the end of the international humanitarian effort and a pullout by UN forces, while even a limited bombing campaign would need to have a clear objective: Would it be to freeze the status quo, or force a Serb retreat?

IN addition, the French said the problem of any military intervention's "chain of command" would be prickly. "The relationship between the United Nations and NATO is not an obvious one," Juppe said. France is not part of NATO's integrated command under US leadership and remains reluctant to see US leadership established in a European conflict.

The French also insisted, along with the Spanish and others, that any military action would require a new and specific UN resolution. But that view, contested by some circles in the US, is not upheld by the British. A British official says it would "depend on the circumstances," noting that UN resolution 700 permits "all means necessary" to meet humanitarian objectives.

Still, the EC's dissuasive emphasis remains focused on sanctions, as has been the case for more than a year. Rattling off a list of figures illustrating greatly reduced Serbian economic activity, British officials insisted sanctions are taking their toll. Tougher measures set to take effect today will go even further, ministers said, although several admitted, economic sanctions had had little impact on Serbia's military and diplomatic positions.

British officials caused a stir when they announced Britain would be prepared to unilaterally undertake air strikes if Canadian troops under UN command in Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia were threatened.

British observers said the British statement was designed to play to a domestic audience by sounding a notch tougher than the other Europeans, and to "test the home waters" for an eventual British participation in US-led air strikes. The offer's immediate impression, however, was that what may become urgent for Canadians is not good for besieged Bosnian Muslims.

British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd repeated a proposal that an international sanctions "coordinator" be appointed to oversee the various organizations imposing sanctions. "It would have to be someone of [the] stature" of retired US Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, says a British source, "someone who can bash heads."

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