This is last chance to end the war, says Clinton

Bosnia peace talks: Three Balkan presidents head for US amid fears that odds remain stacked against final agreement

RUPERT CORNWELL

Dayton, Ohio

As the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia headed for Dayton, Ohio, a sombre President Bill Clinton warned that the peace talks that open today at an air force base in the American Midwest represented the best "and perhaps the last chance for a very long time" of ending the Bosnian war.

Flanked by Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State, and the chief US Bosnia negotiator, Richard Holbrooke, Mr Clinton said the US could not impose a peace on the belligerents - "only the parties to this terrible conflict can end it." But American leadership was essential, as was the participation of US ground troops in the Nato peace-keeping force to police any settlement.

Promising to seek "an expression of support" from a sceptical Congress for the operation, Mr Clinton reiterated that the 20,000 or more US troops sent to Bosnia would not be asked to enforce an unenforceable peace. The first requirement was a real settlement at Dayton, and an agreement "to end this mindless slaughter."

At Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, preparations were complete for the arrival of Presidents Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia, and an estimated 200 aides and other diplomats who will be housed on the base. But what happens when the negotiations begin is anyone's guess.

Several potential pitfalls loom, starting with the ability of Mr Milosevic to sign a deal on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs. "If not, we're not going to have an agreement," warns Mr Holbrooke, whose arm-twisting and shuttle diplomacy have been largely responsible for bringing the peace process this far.

Then there are the tensions between Bosnians and Croats in their federation, due to be awarded 51 per cent of the country's territory under the draft settlement to be presented by the US in Dayton; Croatia's threats to use force to regain Eastern Slavonia from the Serbs and the renewed outcry over atrocities committed by the Bosnian Serbs at Srebrenica, with which Mr Milosevic could yet be linked. Even if he is not, the Bosnian Muslims are demanding the war-crimes issue be tackled directly in the talks.

Finally, the administration must contend with Congress's hostility to the deployment of US soldiers, symbolised by a House of Representatives resolution this week, demanding Congress's approval beforehand. The non- binding resolution was carried by 315 votes to 103, backed by half of House Democrats as well as almost every Republican.

And these difficulties do not touch upon the substance of any settlement itself. Understandably, Mr Holbrooke plays down the prospects of success in negotiations which are likely to be tougher even than the 1978-79 Middle East talks. Dayton, he says, is "a gamble". The talks could last a week or three months, "but with no assurance of success", only the near certainty that failure would send Bosnia back to war.

Under the "proximity talks" formula, modelled on the Middle East talks at Camp David, the parties will talk directly or via Mr Holbrooke and other mediators. The starting point is a "very specific" draft peace settlement drawn up by Mr Holbrooke and the five-nation Contact Group. The negotiations will deal separately with the various issues - the constitution, the split of territory, the status of Sarajevo, reconstruction, the return of refugees - so that impasse on one will not block progress on the rest.

A strict media black-out will operate, with what briefings there are being held in Washington, except for specific interim agreements, for which the press will be summoned to Dayton. The three presidents have promised to say nothing either. The plenary sessions will be held at the base's Hope Hotel, named after the comedian Bob Hope.

n Sarajevo - The United Nations is dramatically cutting its troops in Bosnia even before a peace deal is signed, reflecting its financial crisis and the prospect of UN soldiers being replaced by a new Nato-led force, Reuter reports.

The UN military spokesman, Chris Vernon, said that that up to 6,000 soldiers were ready to go home.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future