War in the Balkans: Peace Deal; Peacekeeping force details `nearly agreed'

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The Independent Online
NATO IS close to agreement on a new enhanced peacekeeping force for Kosovo, Robin Cook said yesterday.

"We expect that to be finally shaped up by next week," the Foreign Secretary said yesterday in Washington, as he and Madeleine Albright, his American opposite number, smoothed tensions between Britain and the US over ground troops in Kosovo. They gave an appearance of unity, but there has been no change in the fundamental issues dividing them, over the force's tasks and the timing of its intervention.

Nato had originally intended to send 28,000 troops as part of KFOR, the Kosovo force, to police a peace deal. That is now regarded as inadequate and the new force will have 45,000 to 50,000 troops. Nato was discussing amendments to the plan yesterday, and next week it will determine which countries will contribute.

Mr Cook and Ms Albright mounted a massive display of unity, meeting at the State Department, having dinner afterwards, appearing together on CNN and then having a drink together, before appearing jointly on British and American media yesterday morning. "There is no rift between the United States and United Kingdom," said Mr Cook, a theme he repeated endlessly.

Britain has pressed the US to consider using ground troops if the Serb forces in Kosovo collapse before there is a peace deal with Belgrade, in what is called a "semi-permissive" environment. But America has rejected this plan. There is no expectation that any plan for intervening in Kosovo under any scenario other than a peace deal will be agreed, given opposition from America, Germany, Italy and Greece.

"We have asked the Nato planners to take a look at updating assessments of having forces in either a permissive or non-permissive environment," said Ms Albright on CNN's Larry King Live programme. "That is new - is that addition new?" asked the interviewer. "No, we asked them to do that a couple of weeks ago," said Ms Albright.

The decision was made at the Nato summit last month. There was no mention then or now of a semi-permissive environment, a situation that the US does not recognise but which Britain believes is a very real possibility.

Mr Cook continued to press for more action on ground forces: "They need to be put on standby or put in theatre ready, so that when we get an agreement, when we are ready to go in...", he said, before Ms Albright interrupted: "Larry, there already are forces around in Macedonia and Albania. There are forces." Mr Cook then shot back: "We're halfway there. We must make sure we continue to build [KFOR] up."

Britain believes Serb forces will collapse before the winter. "I don't see any signs that the Yugoslav army, at the present rate of attrition, is going to hold out until August, September," said Mr Cook on US television. He later told journalists, "We've got to be ready to move when the time is ready."