Europeans: Christopher Is `Consulting' on Bosnia

US presenting evolving Bosnia policy, analysts say, not setting terms

AT the end of five hours of talks on the Bosnian crisis May 4 with French leaders, United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher at one point described the discussions as "genuine consultations."

That statement might seem hardly worth repeating if not for a growing characterization, especially among the US press travelling with the secretary, of Mr. Christopher's tour as failing in its mission to line up European allies behind United States plans for military intervention.

But from a European point of view, the secretary of state is in Europe to present a new - and still evolving - US policy on Bosnia, not to dictate the measures of an eventual military intervention.

Most analysts here say the two Western European powers "that count" in this discussion, Britain and France, will still fall in line behind the US if and when a clear decision for an international military role is actually made. The British would seek to preserve the "special" Anglo-American relationship, and the French would seek to prove, as they did during the Gulf war, that when push comes to shove they will not be isolated from their allies.

But European doubts about the utility and consequences of military intervention, especially in a zone where European soldiers are already serving under the UN, were not about to be overcome by one visit, these analysts add. Just as in the period before the Gulf war, they say, the US lead on consultations and decisionmaking will need to be determined and intense.

"This is going to take a forceful, reliable American engagement, and a clear position from the Clinton administration of an unquestionable refusal of a greater Serbia in the former Yugoslavia," says Hans Stark, a Bosnian specialist at the French Institute for International Relations. "Only [then] will you overcome the continuing French and British reticence."

What Christopher's visits to London and Paris did reveal - ahead of stops in Moscow yesterday and Bonn today - is a convergence of views on steps to be taken in the event the Vance-Owen peace plan is accepted by the Bosnian Serbs and its implementation becomes imminent. (Russian position, Page 6.)

Views on a rapid recourse to military action, in the event the plan is not accepted, remain further apart.

As was already the case when European Community foreign ministers met last month in Denmark, most European countries remain adamantly opposed to lifting the UN arms embargo to allow rearming of Bosnia's Muslims. Air strikes aimed at Serbian heavy artillery installations have more support.

Following Christopher's visit with Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, ministry sources said it would be "well outside the reality" to characterize the two men's positions on military intervention as "without common points."

"Clearly there is closer agreement on the steps to take in the event the [Vance-Owen] plan is signed, because on that there is now near alignment," says one ministry official. "It's true, there was less progress than that" on measures to take in the event the plan is not signed, "but it is also true ... that on this we moved closer together, rather than further apart."

French reservations remain strongest about lifting the arms embargo, out of fear that such a step would only increase the carnage and render the broader region more volatile.

The French took heart from Christopher's statement here that in his view any recourse to military action would require a new UN resolution - a position the US had not before clearly stated. Some observers have interpreted this French view as essentially a delaying tactic.

But just as in the Gulf war, the French want to be operating under UN authorization, should they take part in a military campaign, to allow some cover from inevitable charges that they are following a US lead.

Mr. Stark, who anticipates military intervention will become necessary, says he expects a step-by-step Western response: starting perhaps with the retreat of UN forces, then proceeding to some bombing or rearming of Bosnian Muslims.

But each step, he says, will require "clear American leadership."

European reluctance up to now has been based on two essential arguments, he says: that Russian President Boris Yeltsin would be damaged by military intervention; and that the US administration was divided and expressing strong reservations.

"Now those two arguments have disappeared, at least in the short term," Stark says.

"It will take some time for the Europeans to adjust their positions, but in fact that process is taking place," he adds. "If the situation arrives where the Americans finally decide it's time for action, the Europeans will go along. If they didn't, it would be perhaps the worst transatlantic crisis, and that is quite impossible."

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