As the pictures of the refugee catastrophe in the Balkans continued to dominate their television screens, Americans appeared to be softening their opposition to the use of US troops on the ground in Kosovo.
According to a Newsweek opinion poll to be publishedtoday, the proportion of Americans supporting the use of ground troops has risen from 47 per cent a week ago to 53 per cent. The shift emerged as the US announced that it would accept as many as 20,000 Kosovars as refugees, and the national security adviser, Sandy Berger, confirmed the US was deploying Apache helicopter-gunships for use in Kosovo - a necessary prelude to the deployment of ground troops.
The capture of three American servicemen on the Macedonian border last week has not had a dramatic effect on US opinion. Concern about the fate of the soldiers has been muted both by the drama of the refugee pictures, and also by what appears to be a deliberate silence, verging on an information black-out, from the US authorities and Nato about the prisoners and the prospect of a trial.
It was confirmed last week that Swedish officials representing US interests in Belgrade after the departure of US diplomats had been conveying messages from Washington to the Yugoslav authorities. Several senior officials - including the US special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, and a Yugoslav cabinet minister, Milan Bosic, hinted that the threat of a trial had now been averted.
"Of course, they will not be tried and they will be back in their homes as soon as this stupidity stops," Mr Bosic told the US television network ABC yesterday.
The Yugoslav ambassador to the United Nations, Vladislav Jovanovic, however, was less certain, saying that an investigation was still in progress.
As Mr Clinton was believed to be weighing whether the American public would accept an escalation of the conflict to include ground troops, politicians and military specialists continued to bombard the White House with condemnation and advice about strategy. "Now that we're in, we have to win," was the essence of a large section of opinion on the right, led by Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Isolationist sentiment on the right, which has opposed US military involvement in the Kosovo crisis, and which has been led by a would-be presidential candidate, Pat Buchanan, was given markedly less attention in the American media this weekend than last.
But it was hard to knowwhether this was because the non-embroilment view has lost ground or because it had been crowded out by the graphicfootage from the Kosovo borders.Reuse content