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Crisis in Yugoslavia

U.S., Allies Back Effort by Russia to Ease Crisis

Balkans: Talbott, in Moscow, plans to meet with Chernomyrdin today about longshot proposals to stop bombing. NATO will accept deal only if it meets stringent conditions.

April 27, 1999|NORMAN KEMPSTER and PAUL RICHTER and MAURA REYNOLDS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — The United States and its NATO allies gave their full support Monday to a longshot Russian effort to find a way out of the Kosovo crisis--as long as it meets their demands that Yugoslavia pull its forces out of the province and allow refugees to return under an international peacekeeping force.

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, the Clinton administration's top Russia-watcher, is scheduled to meet in Moscow today with Russia's trouble-shooter for the Balkans, Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, to underline NATO's conditions.

Emerging from a long Kremlin strategy session Monday, Chernomyrdin said: "We worked out a position which can serve as a starting point in talks with alliance countries," according to the Interfax news agency. The former Russian prime minister said he and Talbott would discuss "a range of proposals" to stop the conflict.

But U.S. officials stressed that Chernomyrdin had very little maneuvering room. If he hopes to end the bombing, these officials said, he must persuade Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to take steps he has so far refused to take: withdraw from Kosovo and allow the ethnic Albanian refugees to return under the protection of an international peacekeeping force.

"When you hear about diplomatic solutions, what you're hearing about is diplomatic ways and means to implement the requirements that NATO has set forth," said State Department spokesman James P. Rubin. "And to the extent that we can have Russia agreeing with us on what those objectives are, it will be easier to talk about ways and means to achieve those objectives."

French President Jacques Chirac also weighed in Monday, talking by telephone for more than an hour with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, Yeltsin's press service reported. President Clinton talked by telephone with Yeltsin on Sunday.

"We are sure there is a possibility of a solution," Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov said. "Indeed, our positions are very close on a whole series of proposals that could become the groundwork for finding a political settlement."

U.S. and NATO officials were encouraged by a television interview given Sunday by Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic, a former opposition leader.

Draskovic said that he expected a compromise between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Russia at the United Nations, and that Yugoslavia should accept it. He said the Yugoslav government was misleading its people into thinking that NATO will lose its resolve, or that Russia will intervene on Yugoslavia's side.

"Not only did NATO not crack, but it became stronger," Draskovic said in the interview on Studio B television. "I do not believe there is any sense in the heads of those who are invoking World War III. . . . The people should be told the truth: We are alone."

Deputy Premier Says a Deal Is in the Offing

On Monday, Draskovic tried to play down the possibility that the Yugoslav government is cracking. He said he believed that Milosevic is ready to accept a deal calling for an armed U.N. peacekeeping force in Kosovo--a southern province of Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia--something Russian officials said Milosevic rejected last week.

Draskovic told Western reporters Monday night, after speaking to Chernomyrdin by phone: "I am not a solicitor of Mr. Milosevic . . . but last night, I believe, I hope, I expressed the stand of Mr. Milosevic himself."

He added: "If Milosevic is not for it, I'm going to be against him."

There was no indication that Draskovic was speaking for anyone but himself and his Serbian Renewal Movement. Despite his high-profile rhetoric, he has little authority in the Yugoslav power structure. He is believed to serve as a surrogate for relatively moderate elements within Milosevic's inner circle, enabling the president, at any time, to choose between them and hard-liners.

"I think Milosevic will wait a few days," said Predrag Simic, an aide to Draskovic. "Then we'll see whether Draskovic is out front on this issue--or out of a job."

Draskovic may be losing this battle. The army Monday ordered all television stations, including the one that aired his comments, to link up to Serbian state television each evening to carry the 7:30 news. The order did not bar private channels from airing their own news separately, as Studio B did at 7 p.m.

Talbott is the first of a string of high-ranking visitors from NATO countries expected to visit Moscow this week. U.S. officials hope that even if Chernomyrdin fails to persuade Milosevic, Western backing for his efforts could help reduce Russia's opposition to the NATO bombing campaign and restore better relations between Moscow and the Atlantic alliance.

NATO Won't Use Force in Oil Embargo

In an apparent concession to Russia, NATO officials also said Monday that the alliance would not use force to police its naval blockade of oil shipments to Yugoslavia. Russia, Yugoslavia's primary source of fuel, has angrily said it would refuse to abide by the embargo.

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