US plan risks bolstering Muslim war aims

COMMENTARY

What exactly is the new US peace initiative for Bosnia? Is it a formal plan, and how does it fit in with Nato's military attacks on the Bosnian Serbs?

With only two days before Serbs, Croats and Muslims attend US-sponsored talks in Geneva, uncertainty hangs over the proposals being hawked around the Balkans by Richard Holbrooke, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European affairs. The initiative appears a protean creature, changing shape from one day to the next.

The latest example concerns US willingness to let the Bosnian Serbs form a confederation with Serbia, just as the Muslims and Croats have already done with Croatia. A confederation is a constitutional relationship short of full union.

When details of the initiative filtered out three weeks ago, Western diplomats were convinced a confederation was one of the main incentives designed to entice Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs into a settlement. Yet on Monday evening, after talks in Ankara with Bosnia's Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, Mr Holbrooke said: "The United States is not supporting a confederation."

Another proposal that has gone into reverse, or maybe never existed in the first place, concerns the fate of Gorazde, the only remaining Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia. In the early days of the US initiative, it seemed the Bosnian Serbs would be offered Gorazde in return for more land for the Muslim-led government around Sarajevo.

Now Mr Holbrooke is adamant that the US never asked the Bosnian government to trade off Gorazde. In a strict sense, they are right, for an intriguing feature of the initiative is that, until late last week, US negotiators seem deliberately to have avoided presenting the Serbs, Croats and Muslims with maps of various possible territorial arrangements in Bosnia.

Croatia's Foreign Minister, Mate Granic, asked last Wednesday about the US initiative, replied: "No one has yet seen the maps. In all our talks with the Americans and with all players in the negotiations, no one has seen them."

Mr Izetbegovic, too, seems unclear what the Americans are proposing. He complained in Ankara on Monday that the US initiative contained too many grey areas, particularly as regards the borders to be allocated to the Bosnian Serbs.

Clearly, US strategists are calculating that their plan will stand a greater chance of success than previous Western efforts if it remains as flexible as possible on maps. Ideally, the Serbs, Muslims and Croats would sort out the territorial details themselves, and the US would need to exert no pressure beyond reminding each party that the core principle remains a 51-49 per cent division between the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serbs.

There is, however, another reason for the confusion surrounding the US proposals. This is the fact that, whenever word has arisen of a possible concession to the Bosnian Serbs, the Muslim-led government has fulminated at the idea and Mr Holbrooke and company have felt obliged to beat a hasty retreat.

No Western government, least of all the Clinton administration, wants to be seen as bullying the Muslims, widely seen as the war's biggest victims. But the fact that the US peace initiative coincides with Nato's most forceful attacks of the war against the Bosnian Serbs is giving the Muslim-led government an unusual degree of political leverage over the West.

No sooner had Nato called a halt to the bombing last week than the Bosnian government threatened not to attend the Geneva talks unless the attacks resumed. The Bosnian Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic, said he would never again negotiate at gunpoint - meaning no more talks unless Nato breaks the siege of Sarajevo.

Mr Izetbegovic went further on Monday and said his government would not give up Srebrenica or Zepa, even though the Bosnian Serbs overran the two eastern enclaves in July. He also ruled out allowing the Bosnian Serbs more land around the so-called Brcko corridor, the strip of land joining Serb conquests in northern and eastern Bosnia.

The problem facing the US initiative is that the Muslim-led government appears to view Nato's military campaign as an opportunity to exploit Bosnian Serb weakness and reject political and territorial compromises. Now that Nato has been sucked into fighting on its behalf, the government has less need to accept peace terms that it regards as unjust.

Clearly, though, such tactics risk hardening the Serb negotiating position, producing deadlock at Geneva and prompting the US Congress to override President Bill Clinton's veto on lifting the arms embargo on the Bosnian government.

If that happened, the Clinton administration's policy would be in ruins - a failed peace initiative, and a war on its hands that it never wanted to fight.

TONY BARBER

Europe Editor

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone