War in the Balkans: Summit: Ministers in new pledge on bombing

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The Independent Online
NATO FOREIGN ministers yesterday united around a renewed pledge to bomb the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, into submission. But they also urged Russia first to help broker and then to police a peace settlement which could give Kosovo "internationally protected status".

The first meeting of foreign ministers of the 19-strong alliance since the military campaign began reaffirmed its commitment to air strikes, but carefully kept open options - both on the shape of an eventual settlement and on the circumstances under which ground troops may be drawn in.

After a morning of discussions in Brussels, Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State, said a range of options, including the eventual partition of Kosovo, had been debated. That idea did not, she added, find favour in Washington and could not be "easily done". Ms Albright appeared more favourable to suggestions that Kosovo should be given an "international protected status", a formula which builds on the assumption that the security of the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo must be guaranteed by a Nato- led force.

That opened the possibility of a move, backed by Germany, towards greater Russian involvement in an international peace-keeping force, whose mandate might be reinforced by a United Nations resolution.

As Ms Albright is due to meet the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, today in Oslo, she was careful to encourage Moscow's co-operation with Washington, saying she hoped to establish today what the "common approach can be".

Nato's secretary-general, Javier Solana, promised that the organisation would play its role in rebuilding the region after the conflict, with a plan to stabilise the Balkans. Last week the German presidency of the EU outlined plans to increase economic links with the Balkan states, possibly as a prelude to full EU membership for Macedonia and Albania.

Mr Solana said a stabilisation package would have "political, economic, security and humanitarian aspects" and stressed that Nato "will have its role to play". This could be done through Nato's Partnership for Peace, which has fostered relations with former Warsaw Pact nations, such as Poland.

Despite the concentration on diplomatic initiatives to end the conflict, Ms Albright upped the rhetoric against Belgrade. "Mr Milosevic is trying to divide Nato, but Nato will not be divided," she said.

Mr Solana added: "Milosevic is losing and he knows he is losing. Nato is united. We have justice and right on our side and we will prevail."

The alliance solidified behind five demands: that 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.

Although the continuing ethnic cleansing in Kosovo has blown a hole in the Rambouillet accord, Nato allies have no consensus on which parts of the deal should be kept and which ditched. There is a growing recognition that its proposals for autonomy for Kosovo within Yugoslavia are no longer tenable, but several Nato nations, including Greece, oppose any move to grant full independence to Kosovo.

Nor is there agreement over the point at which ground troops might be used. Over the weekend George Robertson, the Secretary of State for Defence, argued that the "permissive" environment needed before troops could enter Kosovo could come about when Serb forces were in retreat. However, a discussion over lunch yesterday produced no consensus for the deployment of ground troops before a formal deal has been agreed. Yesterday, Mr Solana refused to define what he meant by a "permissive" environment, and Robin Cook, British Foreign Secretary, said that Nato would not be "fighting its way in against organised resistance".

Moscow's role in settling the crisis is being seen as increasingly important. One Nato diplomat said: "Russia is the bridge. Moscow wants stability in the region too, and it talks to Milosevic. But first, Milosevic has to step back."

As yet there is no agreement about the type, or command structure, of an international force, although Mr Cook insisted any such deployment would be under Nato command and control, and that dual command was not a possibility.

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