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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map