Clinton presses for air-strike deal to save Sarajevo

THE CLINTON administration is pursuing an agreement among the allies on the possible use of air power in Bosnia, in spite of the apparent progress made in Geneva towards a constitutional settlement.

After days of intensive consultations here, senior officials from the United States, Britain and France have agreed on principle that Nato aircraft should be deployed on a broad mission to protect United Nations peace-keepers, ensure humanitarian supplies and prevent the fall of Sarajevo.

Meanwhile, President Clinton has written to the UN Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, asking him to authorise air strikes. Mr Clinton is reported to have emphasised the urgency of the situation, particularly the plight of Sarajevo.

Officials in Washington believe that the renewed threat of allied action is helping keep the three parties negotiating in Geneva. Equally, the allies calculate that the pressure must be maintained to ensure that the putative settlement is implemented and ends the fighting.

'It's obviously positive,' one official said of the Geneva pact. 'But more details remain to be worked out. As for the ceasefire, we only hope that it can hold.' The mood among officials appears to reflect a seriousness about going ahead with the strikes if the situation on the ground continues to worsen. Any action is likely to be several days away, however. Still unclear, for example, are the procedures to identify when and where strikes would be necessary. Nor is there agreement on who would command the Nato aircraft.

The mission under discussion goes far beyond what was foreseen by the allies last May, when they agreed only to provide air cover for the peacekeepers.