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U.S. Urges Bosnia Leader to Resume Talks : Diplomacy: Officials in Washington say renewed threat of air strikes was not a signal that NATO would intervene to gain more land for Muslims.

September 05, 1993|MELISSA HEALY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — American diplomats, refining their support of Muslim-led Bosnia's demand for more territory, pressed Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic on Saturday to return to peace negotiations that would divide Bosnia-Herzegovina into ethnic territories.

The U.S. appeal to Izetbegovic, delivered Saturday by envoy Charles Redman in Istanbul, Turkey, came just three days after President Clinton warned Bosnian Serbs and Croats that planes of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization still might attack their positions if their forces use the hiatus in negotiations as an opportunity to renew their attacks on Bosnian Muslims.

Clinton's threat was intended to head off a renewed outbreak of fighting and to shore up the Bosnian negotiating position, State Department officials said. But they cautioned that it should not be seen as a signal that NATO warplanes would intervene to win acceptance of the Bosnian Muslims' demand.

"It's important to communicate to Izetbegovic that military intervention is not a substitute for negotiation," State Department spokesman Mike McCurry said in an interview. "We're not taking the view that the whole settlement should be reopened."

The Administration's position seemed intended to gain a new signal of flexibility from Bosnia after Geneva negotiations collapsed Wednesday over the Muslims' demand for control of 34% of Bosnian territory.

The Muslims would have been granted control over 31% of Bosnia under the proposed settlement, mediated by former Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorvald Stoltenberg and former British Foreign Secretary Lord Owen, and agreed to by Bosnian Serb and Croat officials.

"I believe the talks will continue in the week after next," Izetbegovic said in Istanbul.

Until now, Secretary of State Warren Christopher has mainly been urging greater flexibility by Bosnian Serb and Croat leaders in the negotiations. A Croatian leader said Saturday that his side would not consider further territorial concessions.

"Given their suffering in the Muslim offensive in central Bosnia, there is no moral ground for saying the Croatian side is stubborn and inflexible, nor is it proper to seek further, unilateral territorial concessions from it," said Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic.

The Clinton Administration's efforts to refine its message came amid signs of increasing American frustration with the on-again, off-again nature of peace negotiations. A leading Republican lawmaker expressed exasperation Saturday at what he suggested were Clinton's threats to back the Bosnian Muslims' latest negotiating demands with military force.

"It was the Bosnian Muslim leadership that did not sign the peace treaty, or the group that's led by the Bosnian Muslims," said Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), the House minority whip, who has just completed a fact-finding trip to the region. "In that setting, why are we talking about beating up on the two sides that said they would sign in favor of the side that said it wouldn't sign?"

Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said Saturday that Gingrich's comments appeared to reflect the confusion over what message Clinton intended to convey in his warning.

Sonnenfeldt added that confusion over the U.S. position could encourage Bosnian Muslim forces, who have suffered serious defeat, to believe that they should continue their fight in the hope that Washington might intervene to gain for them what they could not win on the battlefield.

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