US still gloomy on hope of end to fighting

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The Independent Online
OFFICIALS in Washington are optimistic in the short term that the Serbs will pull back their heavy weapons from around Sarajevo but pessimistic about long-term chances for peace. In two or three months they expect fighting will resume, accompanied by a ground offensive by the Bosnian Muslims.

In public the Clinton administration is being cautious and does not want to raise expectations in the US about achieving lasting peace in Bosnia. There is some concern in Washington that the presence of Russian troops may further complicate the situation, but for more than a year the US has been trying to get Russia to increase its involvement in the Bosnian crisis in order to apply pressure on the Serbs.

President Bill Clinton has vigorously supported the ultimatum to Serbia in the face of criticism from Britain that it may lead the West into greater military involvement in Bosnia.

As Serbian guns began to withdraw from around Sarajevo, the White House spokeswoman, Dee Dee Myers, said yesterday: 'The test will be their actions on the ground.' She said that if the pullback was not carried out as promised, air strikes would certainly take place.

The administration is aware of the danger of its policy in Bosnia being oversold. In August 1992, at the height of the presidential election campaign, Mr Clinton called for air strikes against Bosnian Serb guns and the lifting of the arms embargo so the Bosnian Muslims could defend themselves. In office, he at first repeated his tough line - raising Bosnian hopes - but then abandoned it in the face of opposition from Britain and France.

President Clinton is also aware of the lack of public support in the US for any prolonged military intervention in the Balkans. He has always ruled out the use of US ground troops. Even in the aftermath of the 5 February mortar-bomb attack on Sarajevo market which killed 68 people, Mr Clinton blamed all parties. He said: 'Until those folks get tired of killing each other over there, bad things will continue to happen.'

The US has tried to avoid pushing the Bosnian Muslims into a settlement which it believes would institutionalise an unjust partition. At the same time it has kept to the UN arms embargo despite Mr Clinton's oft-expressed opinion that this unfairly discriminates against the Bosnians. According to some US press reports, the US has started covertly to help Bosnia import arms.

A militarily stronger Bosnian government might be in a better position to negotiate in three or four months' time if it has held or improved its position on the ground. But the US does not believe it is possible to change the fact that the Bosnian Muslims have lost the war; nor does it want to give them the impression, as it did last year, that if they hang on long enough the US will come to their rescue.