All sides pledge not to shoot at Nato

PEACE IN THE BALKANS
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The Independent Online
RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

The Clinton administration has obtained letters from the Presidents of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia pledging the safety of the 60,000 US and Nato troops who will be deployed in Bosnia under last week's Dayton deal.

The almost identically worded letters, signed by Presidents Franjo Tudjman, Alija Izetbegovic and Slobodan Milosevic before they left Ohio, promise "all possible measures to ensure the safety" of the peace-keepers. They were released yesterday, to help build public support before President Bill Clinton's TV address on Monday in which he will make the case for sending US troops to the Balkans.

Legally there is no obstacle to the President acting on his own. But an explicit gesture of support from Congress would provide essential political cover should things go wrong, and the Nato force suffer appreciable casualties. And many of the Republicans whose co-operation will be essential for an agreement on balancing the budget are highly wary of committing US troops.

Failure by the US to send its 20,000-man contingent would doom the entire mission. Both Britain and France have made clear they would pull out if Washington had second thoughts - which officials warn will happen if fighting restarts before the deployment starts in earnest, some time next month.

But William Perry, the Defense Secretary, told soldiers of the 1st Armoured Division at their base in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, yesterday that he expected no organised opposition to the Nato presence, though there might be harassment by what he described as "gangs".

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