For US, Time to Listen on Bosnia

Washington eases talk of airstrikes, intensifies phone diplomacy in bid to reach consensus

THE Clinton administration appears to be back at Square 1 as it tries to find some way, any way, to curb fighting in the former Yugoslavia.

Weeks of steadily escalating rhetoric about more forceful measures, such as United States airstrikes, have come to nothing in the face of continued opposition by European allies. Yet Europe's preferred alternative - the diplomatic track of the so-called Vance-Owen peace plan - appears untenable after rejection of the plan by Bosnian Serbs.

US officials no longer talk up the possibility of airstrikes as readily as they once did, though they continue to insist all options are on the table. They appear willing to step back a bit and let Europe take the lead on trying to hammer together a policy.

"It seems that our allies have particular ideas of their own that they want to pursue at the present time," Secretary of State Warren Christopher said on May 17. "We'll be discussing with them their approaches to this matter, which seems to get more difficult every time you look at it."

One choice pushed by the French would be to protect "safe havens" in Bosnia from Serb attack. This would be an expansion of existing United Nations efforts to shield Muslim refugees. US officials have been cool to French requests for US ground troops to help police these protected zones, although use of American air power in this context has not been ruled out.

THE US has at least considered sending troops to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, to prevent Bosnia's problems from spreading there. But some 700 UN troops are already in place in Macedonia, and the UN has not called for any larger contingents.

Placing UN guards along the border between Serbia and Bosnia is another option. These guards would help staunch the flow of arms and fuel to Bosnian Serbs. Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic has promised to cut off supplies to his erstwhile Bosnian allies, but this embargo appears less than total.

In some spots "supplies and vehicles are still getting through," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on May 17.

A Russian call for a Security Council meeting at the UN May 21 to discuss peacekeeping efforts in general was quickly rejected by the US this week. The stated reason was reluctance to discuss peacekeeping costs while Congress is debating next year's budget.

Beyond interim steps there are two clear choices now for ending the Bosnian fighting, writes former Washington Post correspondent Dusko Doder in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine. One is to recognize the reality on the ground and divide Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia. The other is to impose a UN protectorate on the embattled former Yugoslav republic.

The first option, Mr. Doder writes, is repugnant. The second is excruciatingly difficult - "yet no alternatives are apparent," according to Doder.

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