US holds its fire on Bosnia

Click to follow
AMID reports of a widening rift with its allies, the United States has reassured Britain and France that it has made no decision over whether military steps should now be taken to curb Serbian aggression in Bosnia.

London and Paris have strong reservations about two options under consideration in Washington: allowing the supply of arms to the Bosnian Muslims or launching air strikes against Serbian installations.

But Malcolm Rifkind, the Defence Secretary, said yesterday after talks here with Les Aspin, his US counterpart, that the US administration shared British and French concerns about the possibility of reprisals against UN soldiers in the region if either action is attempted.

'We all want tough action and we are all discussing how you can take tough action without jeopardising what the UN is already doing - our objectives are identical,' Mr Rifkind said in an interview with ITN.

While acknowledging that Washington is considering attempting air strikes or supplying arms to the Muslims, Mr Rifkind added: 'They haven't made up their mind yet. I have been heartened by the nature of discussion in Washington.'

Speculation about a possible US initiative is likely to centre on a press conference that Bill Clinton is scheduled to give today. While he is expected to touch on a range of issues, most of them domestic, the President may use his appearance to move Bosnian policy a step forward.

Senior diplomats in Washington remain doubtful, however, that Mr Clinton will do more than underline the need to tighten sanctions against Serbia. Analysis of the situation has been complicated by fighting between Bosnian Croats and Muslims. 'More work has to be done between Washington, Paris and London before any action can be taken. I don't see it being imminent,' said one source.

Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, continues to argue within the administration against military intervention. He said this week: 'I'm not one of those who thinks there is any great disadvantage in extensive and prolonged discussions.'

Mr Rifkind reiterated yesterday that lifting the arms embargo for the Bosnian Muslims might lead to greater bloodshed, particularly in the conflict with the Bosnian Croats. 'There is a very serious risk that you may lose control of what is then done with those weapons that you have made available and which may be then used for purposes you never intended,' he said.

LOS ANGELES - Sead Bekric, 14, blinded by shellfire, was flown from Bosnia for treatment in the US. But the boy's blistered eyes will probably never see again, AP reports.

One doctor at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute said yesterday his chances of regaining sight were 'very poor.' Sead's left eye is completely gone and his right eye was badly damaged. After six hours of surgery, 'our worst fears were realised last night,' said Dr Robert Goldberg. 'The eyeball itself was pulverized and the bones were in tiny fragments.'