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Clinton Administration Encouraged by Steps Toward Peace in Bosnia : Balkans: But Washington steps up pressure on Serbs to spare Sarajevo, asks for NATO meeting on possible military action.


WASHINGTON — The Clinton Administration said Friday that it is encouraged by the new framework peace agreement signed by Bosnia's warring parties, but it stepped up efforts to pressure Serbian leaders into sparing Sarajevo and guaranteeing Muslims a share in any partition of Bosnia.

While generally welcoming the preliminary accord, the Administration asked for a meeting early next week of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to consider possible military action in Bosnia-Herzegovina--including a new U.S. plan to authorize air strikes in Serb-held areas to underscore allied resolve.

As described by senior officials, the U.S. plan would be intended to prod Bosnian Serb leaders into halting their attack on Sarajevo and granting Muslims a significant portion of land when the new "map" of Bosnia--called for by Friday's framework accord--is drawn up.

Under the U.S. proposal, if the Serbs agreed to the allied terms, NATO would drop its plans to launch air strikes. But if they balked, NATO aircraft would bomb Serb-held arsenals, radar installations and command centers--not just near Sarajevo but elsewhere in Bosnia.

The Administration's new proposal would go further than the current consensus among allies that air strikes would be used only to protect U.N. peacekeeping forces there.

It was not immediately clear how many of the allies would support the U.S. initiative. If the American plan does not win sufficient backing, NATO presumably would agree to merely help protect U.N. forces now on duty in Bosnia.

U.S. officials are arguing that the move to preserve part of Bosnia for Muslim rule under any new peace agreement--and to save the city of Sarajevo, which traditionally has been heavily Muslim--is crucial to making any settlement work over the long run.

They are warning that if the Muslims are shut out, as the Bosnian Serbs have proposed in the past, a tinderbox could be created in which Muslim guerrilla groups will be constantly fighting for a share of the territory, much as the Palestinians have been doing in the Middle East.

The Administration's efforts to intensify pressure on the Bosnian Serbs involved a flurry of diplomatic activity, including letters from President Clinton to leaders of several U.S. allies.

U.S. officials said that their major hope in calling for the NATO meeting is to prod Bosnian Serb leaders into guaranteeing that a settlement is reached quickly and that the beleaguered Bosnian Muslims win a share of any new partitioning of the country.

Officials said that if Sarajevo is allowed to fall to the Serbs, prospects that the Muslims would be able to accept a peace accord would be seriously damaged. The Administration also wants to pave the way for stepped-up humanitarian aid efforts in Bosnia before winter comes again.

The NATO meeting Monday or Tuesday would occur under the aegis of the North Atlantic Council, which serves as the organization's political coordinating committee. Officials said that it probably would be at the sub-Cabinet level, leaving Secretary of State Warren Christopher free to go to the Middle East for a scheduled round of shuttle diplomacy.

It was not entirely clear how fully U.S. allies would support the Administration's plan. Britain, for one, was said to be reluctant, but willing to go along. The big question was France, which wants the issue to be handled by the United Nations rather than NATO.

U.S. officials said that there is little question that NATO forces will be ready if the allies decide to authorize the air strikes. NATO air-control spotters were scheduled to be in place in Bosnia Friday, with a new air operations control center in Kiseljak.

The U.N. Security Council has passed two resolutions authorizing the use of force in Bosnia, empowering allied forces to protect U.N. troops in selected "safe havens" and to facilitate humanitarian rescue and supply efforts.

The issue came to a head Sunday after Serbian forces shelled French troops, prompting France to announce that it would break traditional U.N. peacekeeping rules and return the fire if it were attacked again.

Increasing pressure on the Bosnian Serbs is not the only goal the United States wants to accomplish with its new initiative. Officials said that it also wants to warn Bosnian Croats not to interfere with the effort to aid Bosnian Muslims.

And it wants to quash hopes among Bosnian Muslims that they will be likely to win Western support if they hold out for more generous terms, they said.

The developments came as the Administration appeared to be edging closer to winning support for a cease-fire in the Middle East in advance of Christopher's trip there.

Officials said that the secretary spent much of Friday telephoning leaders of the Middle East and received a generally "positive" response from all sides. But they said that more work needs to be done before they will be confident that a cease-fire might be expected to hold between Israel and pro-Iranian Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon.

Christopher had planned to fly to the Middle East on Sunday after a trip to Singapore last week. But he cut short his trip to Asia after the hostilities in southern Lebanon intensified.

U.S. officials said Friday that Christopher expects to leave Washington sometime Sunday, with plans to visit Cairo, Jordan, Syria and Jerusalem before returning to the United States on Friday.

Christopher had been hoping to revive the long-stalled Middle East peace talks, which had been at something of an impasse because of disputes earlier this year between Israel and several of its Arab neighbors.

U.S. officials said that Christopher talked by telephone Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shareh and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amir Moussa--and is likely to continue those conversations today.

Shareh also was said to have relayed demands by Hezbollah, which has been supported by Syria.

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