Mitterrand and Bush unite over no-fly zone

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The Independent Online
A UN resolution establishing a no-fly zone over Bosnia could be passed 'fairly soon', President George Bush said yesterday.

Speaking after talks with President Francois Mitterrand during a stopover in Paris on his way home from Moscow, the President said that the United States did not want to do anything to endanger UN troops on the ground in former Yugoslavia.

Britain, with 2,400 soldiers in the UN force and France, with 5,000, have been wary of US enthusiasm for moves to stop Serbian flights over Bosnia. Mr Bush, on his last trip to France as President, said: 'I think France and the United States are very close together on the no-fly zone enforcement.'

Mr Bush also said that he had been reassuring foreign leaders that they would find Bill Clinton easy to work with after the president-elect takes office on 20 January.

Asked if the UN could now establish a no-fly zone over Bosnia, Mr Bush said: 'I expect it can be passed fairly soon.' Although he was not specific, it was clear that the American President was talking about a matter of days. Diplomats say it would take about two weeks to start operations after approval.

Mr Mitterrand, who insisted that both sides were very cautious in their public statements while the Geneva peace talks were still in progress, said the principle

of the zone had long been accepted and the means of application were the subject of 'deep examination'.

Yesterday's talks, which were held in the Elysee Palace, were also attended on the American side by James Baker, the former secretary of state, and Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Adviser. On the French side, Pierre Beregovoy, the Prime Minister, Roland Dumas, the Foreign Minister, and General Christian Quesnot, President Mitterrand's personal chief of staff, took part.

Le Monde newspaper reported at the weekend that the deployment of British, French and US planes, operating from Italian bases under UN auspices, had already been worked out.

It said Awacs radar aircraft flying figure-of-eight circuits to monitor movements over Bosnia would benefit from the additional protection of Hungarian MiG fighters near the Hungarian border. It said initial operations would be limited to policing the air with strikes limited to acts of self-defence, such as the destruction of missile batteries that fired on allied planes.

In his New Year's message on Thursday, President Mitterrand said France would be willing to take part in military operations to end the suffering in Bosnia as long as the Americans and other Europeans also participated under the UN flag.

Mr Bush said Washington was 'very sensitive to the fact that others have troops on the ground in former Yugoslavia' and would 'not precipitately do anything that would put these troops further in danger'. He added that there were no differences between France and the US on the matter and said the US recognised the 'very significant role of the United Nations' in solving the conflict.

The two presidents also said that they had raised the Gatt talks, over which France and the United States are at loggerheads over agriculture, but made it plain that they had limited their discussions to a reiteration of their respective positions. 'You cannot say that we advanced much,' Mr Mitterrand said.

Mr Bush, answering a question on foreign curiosity about his successor, said he would not spend his retirement 'carping and looking over Governor Clinton's, then President Clinton's, shoulder'. Disputes, he said, 'stop at the water's edge'.

Saying 'I want very much to see Governor Clinton succeed as President Clinton', Mr Bush said that the message he was giving to President Mitterrand and the other leaders was that 'he will find Governor Clinton a good man to work with. I say that from the heart.'

Mr Mitterrand, who has two more years of his term to run, described Mr Bush's words as 'an excellent civics lesson'.

During Mr Bush's four-hour visit he enjoyed oysters, capon with black pudding and steamed mushrooms, champagne and vintage Bordeaux and Burgundy.