War In The Balkans: Diplomacy - Europe calls summit with UN chief

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The Independent Online
EUROPE WILL seek to put the United Nations secretary- general, Kofi Annan, at the centre of Western efforts to end the crisis in Kosovo and discuss timing of a possible UN peace mission to Belgrade. The German presidency of the EU has invited Mr Annan to a meeting of its 15 heads of government in Brussels today in an attempt to consolidate diplomatic efforts to pave the way for a solution.

Diplomats cautioned yesterday against expectations of an early breakthrough, and argued that a peace mission to Belgrade from Mr Annan now might be premature, running the risk of a rebuff. However Mr Annan has made clear his willingness to talk to Slobodan Milosevic, and several governments, including Britain's, believe he is the West's ideal interlocutor with Belgrade when the time for negotiation is right.

Germany points out that the position laid down by Mr Annan on the Kosovo crisis last week is close to that of EU and Nato governments. In particular the preconditions laid down by Mr Annan for a settlement, are close to the five conditions agreed by Nato and endorsed by Europe's foreign ministers. These state that Mr Milosevic should cease military actions, withdraw military, paramilitary and police forces from Kosovo, agree to an international military presence in Kosovo, allow the return of refugees and undertake to work on the basis of the Rambouillet accord.

But the UN has two other important roles to play. First it constitutes a forum for maintaining contacts with Moscow, which is widely seen as crucial to any eventual settlement of the crisis. Second a UN resolution to cover the international force that eventually enters Kosovo is seen as desirable by a number of European countries.

Meanwhile, in Oslo, the West moved decisively yesterday to mend fences with Russia but made little firm progress on the more urgent question of bringing an end to the Yugoslav war.

The meeting was between Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, and her Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov. It yielded only a vague mutual pledge to go on talking in the search for a solution to the crisis. But two critical sticking points rose to the fore over the conflict itself: the composition of an international peace- keeping force to be deployed in Kosovo to protect returning refugees; and the issue of when Nato's bombing campaign should stop. Moscow - and Slobodan Milosevic - wants the onslaught to end at once, paving the path for a political settlement. Nato is only willing to do so once the Yugoslav President ends ethnic cleansing, and moves to pull all his forces out of Kosovo.

The US Secretary of State went one step further by claiming an agreement in principle with Russia on issues that were, in fact, never particularly contested by Moscow. These included the bulk of the alliance's latest demands: the immediate, verifiable, end to repression in Kosovo, the withdrawal of Mr Milosevic's forces from Kosovo, the unconditional, safe return of refugees and allowing international humanitarian organisations to operate throughout Yugoslavia. But there was no sign of movement on the peacekeeping issue, the composition of the forces to be sent in to protect returning ethnic Albanians after the violence ends.

"Our sense is that it has to have a Nato core, with other countries providing other aspects, or working with it," Ms Albright said. The draft communique likely to be agreed at today's Brussels summit will repeat the existing position, agreed by Nato foreign ministers on Monday, but one diplomat argued that Mr Annan's presence may give the meeting "another dimension".

Although the shape of a settlement could be emerging, the West's preconditions are still being rejected by Mr Milosevic, who shows little sign of compromise. Meanwhile the Yugoslav President, backed by Russia, still insists that the bombing must cease before talks can resume.

Gerhard Schroder, the German Chancellor, who will preside at the meeting today, hopes that, at least, the Brussels summit will align all the Western diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis.