Mr Vance had always said he would not stay for ever. At 75, he is two years older than Lord Carrington, and his career has spanned various missions impossible over three decades - he was President Johnson's envoy on Cyprus in 1967, on Korea in 1968, and negotiator at the Vietnam peace talks in Paris in 1969.
But even though the principles behind the Vance-Owen plan - decentralisation, respect for minority rights, and Sarajevo as an ethnically mixed city - will remain the main building-blocks of a solution, the emphasis of the peace process is changing. The US has appointed its own envoy, as have the Russians. The active participation of the US is key to bringing the Russians into the talks. President Yeltsin faces increasing pressure from pro-Serb hardliners at home: yesterday Russia's parliament voted 162-4 for a resolution demanding that Moscow ask the UN to reverse its policy and impose sanctions against Croatia, or lift the sanctions already imposed on Serbia.
But even if the individuals behind the Vance-Owen plan are becoming less important, the need for a UN envoy will remain. Nobody wants a return to the situation last year, when Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the volatile Secretary-General, accused the EC of making demands on UN resources without prior consultation. It is likely some of Mr Vance's work will be taken on by his personal adviser, Herbert Okun.
The past few weeks has seen a bit of quiet sniping by diplomats at Mr Vance. They point out that Lord Owen, beneath his ability to annoy people, has been the engine of the process. 'Nobody trusted Owen in the beginning,' said one Western official. 'In fact, he's turned out to be excellent.' One diplomat said Mr Vance does not 'keep the UN up to speed' as Lord Owen does for his mandators, the EC. And although it is not Mr Vance's job to report to Washington, diplomats point to the marked difference between Lord Owen, who briefs the Foreign Office personally several times a week, and Mr Vance, who has had little contact with the Americans. The reason for this is in part historical. As Secretary of State under Jimmy Carter, Mr Vance is the former boss of the current Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, who was then deputy secretary of state. This has had the opposite effect of giving him an 'in' with the current Clinton administration, which has sought to distance itself from the discredited Carter presidency - from which Mr Vance resigned after the catastrophic attempt to rescue US hostages in Tehran.Reuse content