BRUSSELS — The United States is moving toward recognizing the independence of the republics that once made up Yugoslavia, ending a rift with its major European allies over the issue, American officials said Monday.
The shift, which could come as early as this week, would bring the United States into line with Germany and the rest of the European Community, which have taken the diplomatic lead in dealing with the violent breakup of the Yugoslav federation.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III told reporters aboard his Air Force plane that he plans to meet today with foreign ministers of the 12 EC countries to discuss Yugoslavia, including "the status of the republics."
A senior official then told the reporters that Baker had sought the meeting to coordinate U.S. and European policy on the issue, now that four of Yugoslavia's six republics have declared independence.
Croatia, the largest of the secessionist republics, has been recognized by some 45 countries, leaving the United States virtually the only major holdout. "Obviously, in this overall context, we will have to discuss the questions of recognition and how best to proceed in consultation and coordination with our allies," the senior official said.
That is a course Baker had long resisted--first urging the Yugoslavs to stay together and then, when that failed, insisting that U.S. recognition would only make matters worse. But after a newly assertive Germany pushed the EC into recognizing Croatia on Jan. 15, other nations followed its lead instead of Washington's.
The four republics that have declared independence are Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, leaving only Serbia and Montenegro in the Yugoslav federation.
To many officials, American and European, the issue is an example of how the United States and the German-led EC are disagreeing more often on political issues, now that their alliance is no longer cemented by fear of a powerful Soviet Union. "In Germany, we are now dealing with a country that has more of a personality and more of a point of view than it used to . . . and that's difficult," a senior U.S. official said last week.
Baker flew to Brussels on Monday for a three-day brace of meetings reflecting the new, more complicated political geography of European-American relations. In the past, Baker often stopped here to meet with the other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the 16-country, U.S.-dominated military alliance that waged the Cold War.
This time, his meetings are with the increasingly powerful EC and with a new organization: the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, made up of NATO plus the nations of its old adversary, the defunct Warsaw Pact. This group includes 14 former Soviet republics.
And, almost as a sidelight, Baker will meet briefly with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev to work on an issue that once dominated European diplomacy: nuclear arms control.