Envoy's Balkan odyssey inches towards peace

THE SCENE is a military airport south of Rome on a summer morning. An American executive jet, painted in blue, silver and grey, descends out of a cloudless sky past the Alban hills to land on the single runway. It taxis to a halt outside the small VIP lounge, where Italian soldiers stand guard. Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy, hurries down the steps and into the lounge in search of a telephone. This is the private world of taxpayer-funded travel. Personal planes, super-trained pilots, no circling for "air traffic control to give us clearance", no check-ins or passport queues, attentive diplomats on every airstrip and a reassuring absence of prying eyes.

A second, smaller aircraft belonging to the US government touches down at the end of its flight to Italy from the former Yugoslavia. It carries the Bosnian Foreign Minister, Mohammed Sacirbey. So closely does the US mediator work with the Muslim leaders of the Bosnian government that their schedules appear effortlessly to intermesh. Mr Sacirbey and Mr Holbrooke go into a huddle in the lounge before jetting off respectively to Paris and Geneva.

The price of diplomatic success can sometimes be eternal air travel. Mr Holbrooke embarked earlier this summer on his quest to broker a settlement in the Balkans and to get President Clinton out of a hideous policy dilemma, Since then he has done his best to out-Kissinger Kissinger in the pursuit of shuttle diplomacy.

For Henry Kissinger, then US Secretary of State, the famous shuttle of 1973 to 1974 was relatively simple because only two key protagonists, Israel and Syria, were involved and their antagonism was concentrated on one tiny warfront along the Golan Heights. The stakes, of course, were much higher than in Bosnia, because in Tel Aviv and Damascus the nuclear superpowers had clients on whose behalf they were - in extremis - committed to intervene.

But it was precisely to avert the same risk, that Russia and America could be drawn into a Balkan war, that Mr Holbrooke set out on his fiendishly complex odyssey. The conduct of American policy over Bosnia has often drawn scathing criticism in London and Paris. But this time the Clinton administration decided to play it flawlessly.

Mr Holbrooke and his team made their first transatlantic visits to Britain and France, spending several days to outline their plans and the Holbrooke "timetable" which aimed at a settlement by the end of this month.

He then flew to Zagreb, the Croatian capital, which all previous would- be peacemakers have found on first impressions the most accommodating to their proposals. The treacherous truth usually dawns later.

Next he went to Sarajevo, no doubt to face the winning combination of moral outrage and low cunning which has made the Bosnian government the most effective operator in Washington's policy wars. It would be a mistake to suggest that the Bosnian leadership is in America's pocket, as Mr Holbrooke was to discover when it accused him of softening his demands on the Serbs and conceding the possibility of a divided Sarajevo.

Mr Holbrooke logged a few thousand more miles, flying off to sound opinions in Bonn, Washington and Paris before he landed in Belgrade to see President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, whose influence over events in the Balkans exercises a mendacious hold over envoys to the region. Within five days, Mr Holbrooke had gone back to Zagreb, returned once more to Belgrade, done the rounds of Bonn and Brussels and headed off to Ankara to win over Turkey, a key Muslim nation and a player both at Nato and in the UN.

After that, an intermission in Belgrade and the refuelling stop in Rome, there came the Geneva conference at which the US envoy unveiled his peace plan.

Then it was off to Washington to report to the President and back to the Balkans for a wearying round of visits. Mr Holbrooke does not get any air miles for his frequent flying in the sleek aircraft provided by the US government. But perhaps, he should rack up awards for the number of lies he has had to listen to over the past month or so.

Profile, page 19

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvSpoiler alert: It has been talked about for months
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - West Midlands - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - Yorkshire & Humber - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Embedded Linux Engineer - C / C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A well funded smart home compan...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?