US cool on Muslim safe havens: Russia, Britain and France close to consensus on Bosnia peace-keeping plan

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton yesterday poured cold water on a consensus apparently forming among Britain, France and Russia for a beefed-up UN peace-keeping operation to establish safe havens for Muslims in Bosnia.

After talks in Washington with the Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, the President said that he was sceptical about efforts to end the fighting in Bosnia and warned that proposals to create safe havens there could lead to problems similar to those in Lebanon and Northern Ireland.

Still smarting from his failure to persuade the Europeans to back his plan to arm the Bosnian Muslims and to mount air strikes against Serbian positions, the President made his doubts plain about an enlarged peace-keeping operation on its own. 'We don't want our people in there basically in a shooting gallery.' The President's gloomy assessment came barely two hours after Mr Kozyrev said the various parties were 'very close' and predicted that a 'mutual plan of action' would emerge shortly. This week Mr Kozyrev also put forward a scheme to place international monitors on the border between Serbia and Bosnia, in an attempt to breathe life into the failing peace plan by introducing it 'step by step'.

Amid the confusion and sharply contrasting assessments one thing was plain yesterday: that while maintaining publicly that the 'lift and strike' option remains on the table, the US Administration acknowledges tacitly that the best to be hoped is for the conflict to be contained in Bosnia and - if possible - for any further advances by Croats or Serbs in the former Yugoslav republic to be prevented.

Although Washington continues to declare its hostility to a solution that would effectively ratify the fruits of a year of 'ethnic cleansing' by the Serbs, Mr Clinton repeated that the US would not act on its own to reverse those gains.

In the end, he said, any solution would have to comprise 'a reasonable territorial component . . . We'll just have to see what happens over the next few weeks.' But at bottom, Bosnia was a European problem. 'Everything the United States does must be through the United Nations or through Nato,' he emphasised in a separate radio interview yesterday. Meanwhile, Europe's diplomatic efforts to bring the US into an agreed plan continued apace.

As Mr Kozyrev left the White House, the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, was embarking on talks with Les Aspin, the Defense Secretary, before meeting Mr Christopher. Today the French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, the strongest advocate of safe havens, will be in Washington for discussions with Mr Christopher. But any joint initiative would be launched at the UN, Western diplomats said yesterday.

Serbian leaders dealt another severe blow to the Vance-Owen peace plan last night when the President of the rump Yugoslavia, Dobrica Cosic, ruled out a plan to station UN observers on the border between Bosnia and Serbia.

In a television interview, Mr Cosic said the proposal to put monitors along the Drina river between Bosnia and Serbia was not acceptable. 'We cannot accept monitors on the border on moral grounds, because they will . . . endanger our sovereignty.'

'This is the land of obfuscation, and 'no' today could mean 'yes' in a few weeks,' one senior Serbian official said.

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