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U.S. Denies It Approved Follow-Up Bosnia Force

Balkans: French foreign minister declares Christopher accepted a two-year plan. State Department says secretary of state was only informed.


UNITED NATIONS — A top French official said Wednesday that the United States has accepted a two-year plan for consolidating the peace in Bosnia that would include a continued presence of Western ground forces.

But this assertion--made by French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette--was quickly denied by State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns.

He said Secretary of State Warren Christopher had been informed in general about the plan by Charette at a meeting in Paris in early September "but he [Christopher] did not agree to anything."

In Bergen, Norway, there were news service reports that senior U.S. officials--meeting with their NATO counterparts--supported a proposal by European defense ministers for the alliance to start planning a new military mission that could replace the NATO-led peace force, known as IFOR, by the end of the year.

This seemed to be a change in the American position. When Secretary of Defense William J. Perry arrived in Bergen on Tuesday, he told reporters that talk about a new peacekeeping force in Bosnia-Herzegovina was "premature."

The conflicting accounts of the Paris meeting by French and U.S. officials and the confusing American signals from Bergen reflected just how politically delicate the issue of international involvement in Bosnia is for President Clinton. He has pledged that American peacekeeping troops will start leaving Bosnia by the end of this presidential election year.

Pressure for an extended military mission also came from Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, who told the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday that "the presence of the international military forces will be indispensable for a certain and limited period of time and economic assistance is necessary for a longer period."

Some comments from European officials seemed to indicate a possible way for Clinton to fulfill his pledge and still take part in a military mission in Bosnia.

In a breakfast meeting at the United Nations, British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind predicted to reporters that, as Clinton has promised, the present NATO-led mission will leave Bosnia as scheduled. But the British minister said he did not look on its departure as the end of international military patrolling of Bosnia.

"The odds are pointing to some sort of follow-on military deployment," he said, adding that a decision would probably be made at a conference in London at the end of November or in early December.

Asked if British troops would take part in that kind of military mission in Bosnia if Clinton refused to send American troops, Rifkind replied with a stark "Nope."

Charette, replying to a similar question in a more elliptical way, said that "the presence of a French force would depend on the measures approved" by the allies. But in the past, French President Jacques Chirac has made it clear that he would not keep French troops in Bosnia if the United States refused to allow any of its troops there.

Trying to explain the differing French and American assessments of the Christopher-Charette meeting earlier this month, a French spokesman said the minister was clearly talking about general principles, not details, when he told reporters at breakfast, "The [French] proposal was accepted by the United States at a meeting I had with Warren Christopher in Paris. . . ."

Charette said that, even when the Dayton, Ohio, peace accords were negotiated a year ago, "we all realized that one year was too short" a period for a peacekeeping mission.

While he repeated that no "practical arrangements" have been worked out to implement his government's proposals for a replacement force in Bosnia, he made it clear that ground troops would be needed. The new military operation "has to have a capability on the ground," he said.

Despite U.S. denials that Washington has accepted a proposal for a replacement force, the official U.S. briefings in Bergen indicated a heavy American involvement in discussions about such a force.

A senior U.S. defense official said Perry had told the first session of the two-day meeting of defense ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that the United States, if it took part in a new military mission in Bosnia, did not want troops to assume police duties or hunt down war criminals.

"I think everybody knows it is important to support the war crimes tribunal," said the U.S. official. "Launching individual manhunts is a very different mission."

Undersecretary of Defense Walter Slocombe, Reuters news service reported, said NATO would soon reach a decision on the force. He rejected any suggestion that a decision would be held back until after the Nov. 5 presidential election.

"The United States is often in a position to make important foreign policy decisions during an election campaign," he said. "We will make the [Bosnia] decisions on a schedule which is determined when they are ready to be made. . . . We are not expecting people [in NATO] to hold up decision-making for our election or speed it up for our election."

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