US optimistic Bosnia peace deal is in sight

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The Independent Online

Diplomatic Editor

President Bill Clinton last night reported progress towards achieving a ceasefire in Bosnia and the US Special Envoy, Richard Holbrooke, is to resume what he describes as "productive" talks with the Bosnian government in Sarajevo this morning.

Mr Holbrooke has been locked in discussions over the future of the Muslim enclave of Gorazde in eastern Bosnia, and other obstacles to a settlement.

The new wave of US optimism was spurred by a declaration from President Clinton that he thought he could convince the American people and Congress to send troops to Bosnia to implement an eventual settlement.

"I think the American people, once I explain it to them, will go over, be supportive and I believe the Congress will," Mr Clinton said.

The President would not give details of any US involvement in a new peace- keeping force, but he has previously promised to send up to 25,000 troops to the Balkans after a peace deal.

"I believe the United States should be part of implementing the peace process," Mr Clinton said. "I don't see how, as the leader of Nato and basically the leader of the West, we can walk away from it."

The mood in the US camp has shifted during the last week to a stance of quiet conviction that a peace agreement can be worked out by further methodical negotiation between Muslims, Serbs and Croats.

US diplomats believe the prospects for peace were transformed by an accord reached in New York between the warring sides on the future constitutional structure for Bosnia.

Another sign of their determination to press ahead has been the brisk treatment accorded by the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, to the Bosnian Foreign Minister, Mohamed Sacirbey, who irritated Mr Christopher by holding up the bargaining.

The US government hassponsored the Bosnian Muslim cause, and it is a change of style for US officials now to be applying pressure on Sarajevo.

Mr Holbrooke was in Sarajevo yesterday to press home that the US views it of paramount importance to keep up political momentum. President Alija Izetbegovic has already stated bargaining positions that the US believes would be unacceptable to the Serbs, if not also to the Croats.

The Muslims and Croats are at present grouped in a federation, which the US ambassador to Zagreb, Peter Galbraith, describes as "the cornerstone of our policy in the region".