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US Foreign Policy: Moral tone irks Europe: As President prepares to travel to Europe for D-Day ceremony, 'Independent' writers assess his track record

AMERICA'S reluctance to go along with a peace agreement for Bosnia that could be seen as 'rewarding aggression' by the Serbs, has so far bedevilled efforts to end the war.

The high moral tone of the Clinton administration's foreign policy has put it at odds with its European allies, who have thousands of soldiers deployed in the United Nations humanitarian mission and are desperate to achieve a settlement as soon as possible.

Despite the Administration's difficulties in agreeing to a settlement that leaves the Serbs in control of territory won by fighting, there are hopeful signs that Washington has become more fully engaged in seeking a settlement to the Bosnian war.

The US, Europe and Russia finally agreed on a new strategy to relaunch the Bosnian peace negotiations this month when they backed a peace plan that would carve up the country, giving 49 per cent to the Bosnian Serbs and the rest to a Muslim-Croat federation.

The agreement by the new 'contact group', of foreign ministers from Britain, Germany, France, the US and Russia was hailed by European diplomats as the first meaningful common foreign policy statement to be agreed by the international community since the war began in Bosnia two years ago.

The contact group is now seen as the best hope for peace, because of the influence which each country can bring to bear on the warring parties in Bosnia.

But the continuing hesitations in US policy, and the growing chorus from across the Atlantic in favour of lifting the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims, has made the two main troop contributors, Britain and France, extremely nervous.

Both countries are now saying openly that they are prepared to withdraw their forces from the UN humanitarian mission if there is no progress towards a peace agreement over the summer.

The lack of self-assurance in American foreign policy, coupled with a deep reluctance to sign up to a peace agreement that leaves President Bill Clinton open to criticism, has been blamed for the West's attack of 'strategic arthritis', by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

'The United States, even more than usual, does not seem to be following a steady compass,' the London-based organisation said in its annual review of security issues.

Mr Clinton, the report said, had been 'blowing a very uncertain foreign policy trumpet'. He seemed not to want to give security guarantees, like those being sought by Eastern European countries, but still sought guarantee of his own foreign policy.

'By the end of the year, the US was insisting on no open-ended commitments, assurance of victory without casualties, and an exit strategy. These are awesome guarantees to ask for in today's uncertain world.'