Bosnia Crisis: US to offer gradual end to Serb sanctions: Washington forced to consider climbdown

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED STATES is offering to discuss the progressive lifting of economic sanctions against Serbia to encourage Serbian leaders to reach a peace agreement. The concession is a sign that the administration, which has ruled out a wider bombing campaign against Bosnian Serb forces, now feels that it has no effective military option.

The US is hoping that its alliance with Russia will prevent its policy in Bosnia unravelling completely, but believes the use of limited air strikes last week has proved counter-productive. A senior official said the administration will meet with European and Russian officials this week to discuss how lifting sanctions can be linked to a ceasefire and a peace settlement.

The White House is being criticised for sending conflicting signals about Bosnia in the past two weeks. The Defense Secretary, William Perry, and the Pentagon played down the use of force. This was almost immediately contradicted by the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. There was initial enthusiasm for the air strikes near Gorazde, but this dissipated when the Serbs intensified the attack.

Mr Clinton was criticised yesterday for ending up with the worst of all possible worlds: using enough force to irritate the Serbs without intimidating them. The former secretary of state Henry Kissinger said: 'The Serbs have been fighting for 500 years. A few bombs are not going to frighten them.' He said it was probably too late for air power.

US officials say they will continue to rely on the judgement of Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander in Bosnia, about further air strikes. Hitherto the US has opposed lifting sanctions until after a peace agreement, but is now for the first time prepared to see them removed in stages. Lawrence Eagleburger, a former secretary of state, said it was 'absolutely outrageous' to choose this moment to reward Serbian aggression with concessions.

He added: 'If we had planned it I do not see how we could have got into a worse mess than we are in now.' He said the only way for the US and Nato to regain credibility was to use heavy air strikes. But there is every sign the administration is moving in the opposite direction. Mr Perry leaves today today for a trip to South Korea and Japan. His tour was postponed on Friday because of the shooting down of two US helicopters by US fighter planes over in Iraq.

A sign that the administration lacks a coherent policy on Bosnia was the failure of any of its senior members to appear on the Sunday morning current affair programmes on television. This confirms the Washington adage: 'The worse the news, the more junior the official sent to announce it.' Only Charles Redman, US special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, appeared on behalf of the administration yesterday to reassert that the UN mandate was to use air power to protect UN personnel, not the 65,000 Bosnians in Gorazde.

'There is a United Nations mandate,' Mr Redman said. 'I do not detect a desire on the part of anyone to change that mandate . . . That means the UN is not here as a combatant, but it is trying to do a job, to save lives, to protect people.' On Friday Mr Clinton seemed almost to plead with the Serbian leadership, saying: 'The United States has no interest in having Nato become involved in this war to gain some advantage for one side or another.' He added that after the bombing raids there was bound to be 'some friction' with the Serbs.

Mr Clinton and his foreign policy team are being criticised for making the same mistakes in Bosnia as they did in Somalia and Haiti last year. In all three cases they first talked tough, but when the other side refused to back down the administration was quick to retreat. Four months ago Mr Clinton personally warned Nato that if it threatened force, it must use it effectively, but the small-scale air raids last week seemed an example of what he said Nato should not do.

There is concern in Washington that humilitation by the Bosnian Serbs will undermine US credibility elsewhere in the world, notably in North Korea. Critics of the administration say that the speed with which Mr Clinton climbs down in the face of resistance encourages his opponents, domestic and foreign, to fight harder. But the crisis in Bosnia is not affecting public opinion, so Mr Clinton is under little political pressure to become more involved. It has underlined, once again, however, that none of his foreign policy team is very articulate and may bring nearer the departure of Mr Christopher or the National Security Adviser, Tony Lake.

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