Rifkind has high hopes for progress

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The Independent Online

Foros, Crimea

The Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, said yesterday that he believed that, despite Nato air action in former Yugoslavia, there was "a better opportunity for progress on the political and diplomatic front than for some years''.

Developments in Bosnia will dominate talks between Mr Rifkind and his Russia counterpart, Andrei Kozyrev, in Moscow this morning. Speaking in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, Mr Rifkind said the Bosnian Serbs had to fulfil three conditions: withdrawal of all heavy weapons from the Sarajevo area, a halt to all attacks on the city and free access.

"The response of General Mladic has so far been insufficient," Mr Rifkind said. He has spent the last two days earnestly reassuring Ukrainian leaders about Western policy towards the Bosnian Serbs, finding their Prime Minister and Foreign Minister more preoccupied with Ukraine's economic plight and its relations with Moscow.

Foreign ministers of the five-power Contact Group will meet in Paris on Thursday on the eve of peace talks among the three main states in former Yugoslavia, the French Foreign Ministry said yesterday. Ministers from the United States, Russia, France, Britain and Germany will meet a group of Islamic countries to explore prospects for a negotiated settlement after Nato air strikes on Bosnian Serb positions last week, a ministry spokesman said.

The idea for the meeting arose during Paris talks last week between the French Foreign Minister, Herve de Charette, and the Moroccan Prime Minister, Abdellatif Filali. Spain, Italy and Canada, involved in UN and Nato operations in former Yugoslavia, will also attend.

Last night Mr Rifkind met the Ukrainian President, Leonid Kuchma, at his summer home in the Black Sea resort of Foros. The invitation reflected Ukraine's approval of British support for its European aspirations and a subtle pleasure in the fact that Mr Rifkind will be spending longer on Ukrainian soil than in Russia on his first major trip as Foreign Secretary.

The Ukrainian leadership has made it clear it wants to be consulted about the diplomatic initiative to settle the wars in former Yugoslavia, particularly since it still has peace-keeping troops in the UN mission.