Keeping the World in Limbo, Till November

A reelection-bent White House is striving to keep international hot spots that could damage the president in a state of limbo. Three countries in particular are being watched.

The administration hopes that in Israel Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu can be induced to delay any provocative move, like an expansion of West Bank settlements, at least until after our November election.

In Russia, open American support for President Boris Yeltsin could be counterproductive given the nationalist mood. So there is not much to do but hope there won't be a Communist-led government come June 16.

The most immediate threat lies in Bosnia, where the continued wielding of power by indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic makes it questionable whether the conditions exist for the "free and fair" election foreseen in the Dayton accord.

Unwilling to risk American soldiers to capture the two warlords, the administration lets it be known it will be satisfied if they just leave the country. It talks of expanded NATO patrols to limit their movement, although commanders on the ground deny knowledge of any new deployment. The administration now threatens renewed sanctions against Serbian President Milosevic unless he works to remove the two.

And meanwhile the US continues pressing for an election in mid-September. It seems undeterred by reports by the European security organization of widespread violation of human rights and freedom of movement and of the press. It is doubtful that thousands of refugees could, as foreseen in Dayton, return to their towns to vote.

But to recognize that under present circumstances an election will not likely be either fair or free, and that prospects for a unified Bosnia are dim, is to raise the question of longer and deeper US military involvement beyond Dec. 20. That is painful even to think about in our preelection season. So policy proceeds on a hope and a prayer.

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