Owen urges US to send troops for aid effort

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LORD OWEN yesterday made his strongest call to date for the United States to back up its tough talk with action and send troops to help the humanitarian effort in Bosnia.

'If the United States wants to have a firmer response and a greater involvement, there could be no more powerful statement than to make available two, three, four thousand contributors to the force with a humanitarian mandate,' Lord Owen said. 'Europe, I think, is entitled to say . . . 'Let's be partners on the ground as well as in the air and in the sea'.' A French diplomat put it more bluntly: 'We'd like to see some evidence of the Americans a little below 30,000ft altitude.'

The call comes at a time when President Bill Clinton claims vociferously he is alone among the allies in being ready for 'quick and decisive' steps over Bosnia. But these steps now amount only to air strikes; and the move by President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia to cut off supplies to the Bosnian Serbs - if effective in practice - means that there is nothing for Mr Clinton to bomb. The targets were the supply lines from Serbia proper.

But the air strikes would have saved the US having to send any troops because they would sabotage the humanitarian effort on the ground. Cynics may even conclude that the US wanted to launch the air strikes to preclude the implementation of Vance- Owen - to which it would be expected to commit 20,000 ground troops. President Milosevic and Lord Owen have thus called Mr Clinton's bluff.

Sensing the urgency of making Mr Milosevic keep his end up, Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, said yesterday the world would not tolerate any delay in cutting arms and fuel supplies to Bosnia. 'We are not prepared to wait at all . . . it is up to him now to ensure that in practice the agreement that he signed is honoured.'

The US has not even been able to show leadership in telling the allies up front, 'Right, this is what we're doing. are you with us or not?' Instead, Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State, has travelled round the allies week with a 'menu' of military options which he has presented without specific recommendation, asking them to volunteer what they think. Uneasy silences have ensued.

What Mr Christopher himself 'thinks' is not known even to his own aides. He is described as 'inscrutable'. A lawyer by training, he dislikes any grand idea with an uncertain outcome. That would apply to any scenario here. Nobody in the Clinton administration has yet explained what America's interests in the Balkans are. But the answer seems to be: to avoid sending troops at any cost.