War in the Balkans: Diplomacy: Hopes Annan will pave way to a solution

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The Independent Online
EUROPE WILL today 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, in a bid 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 the Britain, 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 pre-conditions 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 which eventually enters Kosovo is seen as desirable by a number of European countries.

The draft communique likely to be agreed at today's 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, that 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.