Owen set for Bosnia showdown with US

Click to follow
LORD OWEN and Cyrus Vance yesterday stepped up their efforts to rally the United States and the UN Security Council behind their peace plan for Bosnia, setting the stage for a confrontation between the two mediators and the Clinton administration.

In a press conference at the UN Mr Vance warned: 'It is going to impede our efforts if we cannot soon have a real feel for the administration's position.' The Vance-Owen plan would divide Bosnia-Herzegovina into 10 areas with a loose central government and has been endorsed by the EC, but the Clinton administration is still studying options, including lifting the arms embargo to Bosnia. 'We need the situation clarified,' Lord Owen said.

Earlier the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, criticised the peace plan as unfair to Bosnia's Muslims, and in the US Congress and in the media Mr Vance and Lord Owen have been upbraided for producing a plan that would codify regions of 'ethnic cleansing'.

Lord Owen bridles at such criticism. 'Which negotiations have ever persuaded an armed force to withdraw from 24 per cent of the territory they have gained?' Lord Owen asked, referring to the plan's proposals for Serbian withdrawal. He said the US Secretary of State remained silent on that question during discussions with himself and Mr Vance.

The Clinton administration has been under fire for being slow to formulate its Balkan policy. Part of the reason is that only three senior foreign policy officials have so far been confirmed by the Senate. Lord Owen said that he wanted to be 'fair' to the new team. 'It always takes time to put one together,' he acknowledged.

But he added that he was surprised by the lack of a more constructive response from Washington. The Balkan issue had been a 'big one for liberals for two months and I am rather surprised there has not been a more serious attempt to decide on a policy'. Since arriving from the stalled talks in Geneva, Lord Owen and Mr Vance as the two co-chairmen of the peace conference have vigorously tried to push the administration towards a decision. 'While we are not in the business of making things embarrassing for the administration, we are also not in a position to accept continued stalling,' Lord Owen said.

The peace talks came to an impasse in Geneva at the weekend without agreement among the three main factions - Serbs, Croats and Muslims - and the new negotiations are due to reopen today at the UN.

Some Security Council members favour tightening sanctions, including severing of transport and communications links to what remains of Yugoslavia. Britain and France, with peace-keeping forces in Bosnia, believe tighter sanctions would force Belgrade to halt attacks by Bosnia's Serbs. Britain and France would like the Council to endorse the plan and then have the discussions between the parties continue in Geneva. They are also discussing sending Nato warplanes to enforce the ban on flights over Bosnia.

Russia threw its weight behind the Vance-Owen plan yesterday and called for the Sarajevo siege to be lifted. 'The Security Council is urged to ensure decisive support for the Geneva package of agreements,' said the deputy foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.