Nato's foreign ministers agreed that if a UN resolution on enforcement was adopted, it should bear in mind the need to continue the humanitarian effort, which could be threatened by stepping up military intervention. Nato would support the UN in enforcing the resolution 'should violations continue' after its adoption.
British sources said the resolution would contain a specified 'pause for goodwill' before it is implemented - a tactic used three years ago in the resolution giving Iraq a deadline to withdraw from Kuwait. That would mean allied aircraft not entering Bosnian airspace until there was clear infringement.
Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, is believed to have persuaded his US counterpart, Lawrence Eagleburger, to go the extra mile to avoid jeopardising the aid effort and safety of ground troops.
Although discussion about enforcement of the no-fly zone pointed up differences among some allies, there was no suggestion of ground troop intervention to stop the war.
Mr Hurd reiterated strongly his conviction that a settlement could not be imposed by force. Asked what had been achieved to relieve the suffering in the past three days' successive meetings of the Conference on Security and Co- operation in Europe, the Geneva Conference and Nato, he declared: 'It's not going to be stopped by action in any of the bodies you mention . . . We haven't stopped the suffering - it can't actually be stopped from outside, in my view.
'We're left, are we not, to use persuasion, pressure and humanitarian effort.'
According to Cabinet sources, the long-term strategy emerging from ministers is for a settlement to be reached roughly on the territorial gains by the Serbs, provided Muslims are guaranteed a protected zone in Bosnia. The Serbs will not be allowed to take Sarajevo.
Nato ministers made clear their meeting's outcome was not influenced by a letter to John Major from Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, warning that if the UN tried to enforce the flight ban, its ground forces would be declared hostile and were likely to be attacked.
The Nato statement was a compromise between two camps - those who proposed to start enforcing the ban now, and volunteered the aircraft to do it, and those insisting it must be planned carefully to minimise the risk to troops and aid workers.
Britain said the Vance-Owen conference it had called in Geneva the day before had helped to persuade the others to think twice about jeopardising the aid operation to shoot down some militarily insignificant Serbian helicopters.
The Security Council will probably vote on the French-sponsored resolution on Monday or Tuesday. A frisson of uncertainty entered the calculations yesterday with a threat by China, one of the five permanent members, to use its veto.
China has a grievance with Britain over Hong Kong and with France over the sale of aircraft to Taiwan, and it may exact a price for acquiescence.
Although the conservative-dominated Russian parliament voted yesterday to oppose - including by veto - any intervention that might escalate the Yugoslav conflict, the Russian ambassador to the UN was co-operating with the West.
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