Clinton supports further Nato air strikes - UN commander warns of humanitarian catastrophe in Gorazde: Twin-track strategy aims to force Serbs to negotiating table

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PRESIDENT Clinton yesterday backed a major extension of Nato air power to counter Bosnian Serb aggression, and United States officials plan to discuss it with Nato allies, a senior White House official said. The official said Mr Clinton and his top foreign policy advisers had come up with a mixture of military and diplomatic initiatives aimed at bringing the Bosnian Serbs back to the negotiating table. He said the President gave overall support to a proposal from the United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to expand the threat of Nato air strikes to help protect civilian in all six UN-declared 'safe areas' in Bosnia.

The aim of the US initiative would be to repeat the temporary success achieved by the United Nations in relieving the siege of Sarajevo in February by issuing an ultimatum. Up to now UN commanders have only had the authority to call in air strikes to protect UN personnel. In addition to close air support the US may also threaten pre-emptive strikes against Serb forces.

In between meetings in the White House Mr Clinton told reporters he was examining 'our options to regain the momentum (towards peace) in Bosnia'. He welcomed a call by the Russian leader, Boris Yeltsin, for the Bosnian Serbs to stop attacking Gorazde. He said he was seriously considering Mr Yeltsin's proposal for a summit between Russia, the US and EU to discuss Bosnia. Mr Clinton said such a meeting might be better after progress had been made in talks between the combatants.

Anthony Lake, the National Security Adviser, said earlier that the possibility of doing anything to prevent the fall of Gorazde 'seems very limited'. Officials are aware that the air strikes of the last two weeks were counter-productive but are fearful that widening the air war may be equally ineffective.

Other options being considered include ending the arms embargo on Bosnia, which Mr Clinton says he personally favours but would only do if Britain, France and other allies agreed to it. Given that the Europeans believe that the most immediate effect of an end to the embargo would be to guarantee a more vigorous Serbian assault, this is unlikely to occur.

Mr Clinton's picture of himself as straining to save the Bosnian Muslims but always held back by respect for the views of the UN and his Nato allies, is viewed with increasing suspicion in Washington. Even the normally supportive Washington Post says that by 'positioning himself as the pawn of a self-driven international machine, he had abdicated what ought to be a great power's serious effort to win'.

Paul Goble of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says that it is a mistake to see Mr Clinton as indecisive on Bosnia 'because from the beginning he did not want to get involved there'.

There is growing unease in Congress and the foreign policy establishment that visible failure by the US and its allies to restrain the Serbs is doing lasting damage to US credibility. The alliance with Russia - the centrepiece of Mr Clinton's foreign policy - has not helped.

Although Mr Clinton welcomed Mr Yeltsin's demand yesterday that the Bosnian Serbs pull out of Gorazde, the failure of Russian mediation over the weekend is a further blow to US strategy.

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