US ready to upgrade role in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
AT FIRST glance the final product of the Clinton administration's long policy review on the Balkans looks insipid. After talking tough about beating back Serbian aggression, if necessary with force, during the presidential campaign, President Clinton has chosen what many advocates of a strong US role were seeing last night as an easy way out: the appointment of a US envoy in the person of the US ambassador to Nato, Reginald Bartholomew.

In place of a commitment to military force came a policy of using the 'full force of US diplomacy' - essentially in support of the UN-EC sponsored peace plan drawn up by Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen. Their plan to divide Bosnia into 10 cantons under a loose central government has been criticised, not least by the new US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, as rewarding Serbian aggression and perpetuating regions of 'ethnic cleansing'.

The US did not produce a map of its own to counter the one offered by Mr Vance and Lord Owen, a map that is still opposed by the Bosnian Serbs and Muslims. The lack of a new map redrawing the boundaries in four of the Muslims cantons displeased those in the administration who had argued for greater overt support for the Muslims. It also laid the administration open to the instant criticism that, in fact, there was no real US plan at all.

In fact, what the administration has done is to lay the diplomatic basis for a considerable upgrading of US involvement. The peace negotiations will now continue at the UN, with Mr Vance and Lord Owen plus Mr Bartholomew at the head table. Mr Bartholomew will make his debut on Monday, after a trip to Moscow where he will renew old high diplomacy relations with Russia - which is a key to persuading the Serbs to accepting the plan.

Mr Christopher's statement made it clear that the US was now considering the 'possibility' of US forces being involved in the implementation of the plan. That was not the case before.

Moreover, privately Mr Christopher has been reassuring some doubters on Capitol Hill that if, one month from now, the UN relief supplies to the Bosnians are not getting through, or aggression against the Bosnian Muslims continues, then the US will exercise its option to become more robust.

By declining to produce its own map or to upstage the Vance- Owen talks, the US at the same time does nothing to hinder those talks - which may take on a new life simply because of US involvement. After all, no UN measures, sanctions or plans have ever got anywhere without the US.

Marking the new mood in the American delegation, the US ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Allbright, said last night that reactions to the US statement had been very favourable and that it was now up to everyone to 'roll up their sleeves and get to work'.

Although Mr Vance and Lord Owen did not say so, it must have come as a relief that the moderates in the administration prevailed and that the long US policy review did not produce anything to counter their own work over the last five months.