Inside File: Britain's 'forked tongue' on Serb sanctions

IF THE American government had had its way last week, thousands of British holidaymakers might have found themselves left high and dry in August.

One of the US proposals to punish President Slobodan Milosevic for his failure to bring the Bosnian Serbs under control was to close down every business in the world with any Serbian connection whatsoever. One such business is Medchoice Holidays Ltd in the United Kingdom. Until the dismemberment of Yugoslavia in 1991, the company was known as Yugotours; its ultimate parent company remains Genex, Belgrade - one of the former Yugoslavia's state-run behemoths; yet it does not run tours to the former Yugslavia any more; its biggest destinations are now Greece and Turkey. Since the imposition of sanctions against Serbia in May 1992, Medchoice's payments to overseas suppliers are monitored by the Bank of England to ensure they do not end up in Serbian hands. The company says it is kept scrupulously up to date by the Department of Trade and Industry of any new sanctions-related directives.

The rather extreme nature of America's blanket proposal was resisted by France and Britain as possibly xenophobic. Yet US diplomats, as ever scathing of Britain's 'weak-kneed' policy towards Belgrade, attributed the British reservations differently. 'They pretend to have principled objections, but they just don't want to upset the British voters in the holiday season,' said a US official. 'They pretend in public they are in favour of tougher sanctions, but in private it's a different story. The British are speaking with forked tongue.'

The US had originally sought to summon the other four members of the 'Contact Group' on the former Yugoslavia to rush to Washington last Saturday to map out a United Nations resolution for the tightening of sanctions. The four - Britain, France, Germany and Russia - declined.

The meeting was eventually held on Tuesday, but by that time the American tune had changed slightly. The US was no longer insisting on a blanket ban on companies; the agreed draft text to be held in preparation for any new Security Council resolution focused largely on closing holes in the existing sanctions regime.

On the same day, Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, was answering reporters' questions on board his plane after a Middle East peace shuttle. He said: 'If there is a substantial period of enforcement, of the intention that was expressed, if the border was effectively closed and if the Bosnian Serbs seem to be deprived of important aid and war-making materiel, clearly there then would be a case for easing sanctions.'

Mr Christopher's remarks should not be interpreted as a drastic shift in policy; he was observing the carrot part of the Contact Groups's two-pronged policy vis-a-vis Belgrade.

There were some pretty significant 'ifs' built into his statements, which many doubt that Mr Milosevic seriously intends to satisfy. Yet it does mean Medchoice, and the British holidaymaker, can relax for now.

At any rate, it is not just the British who are not as gung-ho as the Americans about imposing new sanctions in the name of pacifying anti-Serb public opinion at home. The Germans, usually at one with the US on demands such as lifting the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims, find the whole subject an unpleasant irrelevance. 'We don't much like this discussion about sanctions; it is too theoretical,' said one German envoy. 'Because the Serbs do what they want, with sanctions or without sanctions. It is very bad for us to be seen sitting around discussing it.' In other words, Bonn knows that such a discussion is not going to help Chancellor Helmut Kohl win re-election in October.

Ultimately, any diplomat will admit, sanctions are just one way for governments to express that they do not like what another government is doing, but that they are not ready to go to war over it. The complexity of the sanctions debate is amply illustrated by the case of Iraq: the 'progressive liberals' who in 1990 were arguing against going to war, and asking for sanctions to be given time to work instead, are now those complaining that the sanctions are causing the Iraqi people undue hardship. But Western governments are, for now at least, resisting the temptation to hand Saddam Hussein a diplomatic victory by lifting them.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor