After weekend talks at Camp David, John Major and President George Bush said they would work together for a new United Nations resolution 'to enforce compliance with the no-fly zone for Bosnia'. Diplomats hope such a resolution will be passed before Christmas.
Though neither leader was specific about how enforcement of the air exclusion zone could be implemented, it seemed certain that the wording of a resolution would at least leave open the option of shooting down Serbian aircraft violating the ban, which has been regularly flouted since its imposition last month.
Officials also indicated that Britain and the US both expect the resolution to allow for a warning period, perhaps of 15 days, after which military reprisals would be taken if Serbia was still violating UN resolutions.
The two leaders also recommended the imposition of additional diplomatic sanctions, extending to severing postal and telephone links and even sealing borders, if Serbia's policy of aggression is not changed. The threat of those sanctions would be built into the new resolution.
The Prime Minister, who has resisted any escalation of outside military involvement in the Balkan conflict, insisted that the use of air power would not be spelt out.
But it was clear from comments made by US administration members that authorisation to use air power is expected from the resolution. Dick Cheney, the Defense Secretary, alluded to the possible 15-day deadline, after which 'action would be taken'. Options would include patrolling the skies in the no-fly zone or destroying Serbian aircraft on the ground.
The Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, who also met Mr Major, said: 'If we go toward enforcement of the no-fly zone resolution by shooting something down, they're worried that these people (UN troops) could become hostages or at least the point of an attack in retaliation.' But he predicted a no-fly zone resolution within a week.
The mounting pressure to offer some new initiative to curtail the suffering in Bosnia appears to have moved both leaders to compromise. While the UN resolution seems certain to open the door to the kind of military action formerly opposed by Britain, Mr Bush has stepped back from calling for strikes against Serbian bases. The US continues to emphasise that military action should be limited to air operations. There is nothing to suggest that Mr Bush would contemplate deploying ground troops, as in Somalia.
In a nod to Mr Major's worries, Mr Bush repeatedly underlined his concern that the 2,000 British troops should not be put at new risk: 'I would view British soldiers as I would US soldiers.'
Mr Major said implementation of non-military sanctions would depend on Serbia's attitude over coming weeks. If necessary they could extend to 'complete and total diplomatic isolation . . . for a very long time indeed'.
The two leaders urged additional measures to prevent the conflict spreading to Kosovo and Macedonia, calling for the deployment of extra observers in Kosovo.Reuse content