Clinton to visit troops at Christmas as battle with Congress looms

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President Bill Clinton is to make a flying pre-Christmas visit to United States troops serving with the Nato-led contingent in Bosnia. The visit, likely to take place next weekend and take in Tuzla and Sarajevo, is seen not just as a seasonal morale-booster for the troops but as a sign of the administration's continuing commitment to maintaining a US military presence in former Yugoslavia.

The congressional mandate for the troops to remain in Bosnia expires at the end of June and Congress, with a Republican majority in both houses, a distinctly isolationist tinge and elections due next year, is expected to contest any proposal that the troops should stay longer.

Administration officials say that Mr Clinton's visit will be his opening gambit in the campaign to keep US troops in place. They say he will use his trip to warn that progress made since the Dayton accords were signed two years ago is insufficient to warrant the withdrawal of US troops by the June deadline. While Britain and other European have largely accepted the argument for remaining, they also recognise that it is unrealistic for them to stay without the Americans. The US provides satellite reconnaissance, transport helicopters and other equipment that Europe lacks but are considered essential to the operations of the Nato-led Stabilisation Force (S-For).

While Mr Clinton has publicly acknowledged that US troops will probably have to stay in Bosnia beyond the June deadline, divisions have emerged between members of his administration. The Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, seems more inclined to argue for a continued US role in Bosnia than the Defense Secretary, William Cohen - although one interpretation is that Mr Cohen is simply holding out for more money and better terms for the cash-strapped military than objecting in principle to the extension of involvement.