Global Policy Forum

US Fails to Get Firmer Yugoslav Sanctions


By Philip Shenon

New York Times
March 26, 1998

Bonn - The United States failed to obtain backing today for new sanctions to punish Yugoslavia for its violent crackdown in Kosovo Province, but Washington did receive a promise from Moscow that Russia would support a United Nations resolution for a comprehensive arms embargo on the Government of President Slobodan Milosevic.

Before the meeting here of the socalled Contact Group, which monitors events in Yugoslavia and the nations that broke away from it, American officials had suggested that they wanted the group's six members - the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Italy and Germany - to immediately impose new sanctions on the Yugoslav Government. But further sanctions were postponed for now, according to a statement released after the meeting.

If Mr. Milosevic does not take "urgent" steps to reconcile with the ethnic Albanians who constitute 90 percent of the population of Kosovo, the contact group nations will discuss imposing firmer sanctions at their next meeting.

"We expect President Milosevic to implement the process of unconditional dialogue and take political responsibility for insuring that Belgrade engages in serious negotiation on Kosovo's status," the statement said. "We support a substantially greater degree of autonomy for Kosovo, which must include meaningful self-administration."

More than 80 people have been killed in Kosovo over the last month, and there were fresh outbreaks of violence this week, with a Serbian policeman and two ethnic Albanians reported dead after a series of clashes on Tuesday.

American officials insisted today that they were satisfied with the outcome of the one-day meeting here, especially after Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov of Russia said his Government had agreed to support the arms embargo resolution, which had been stalled before the Security Council.

While the United States, which was the host of the gathering, did not get all that it had hoped for, American officials said the agreement on the embargo was especially important since it ended the threat that Russia might veto the resolution in the Security Council and begin shipping new weapons to Yugoslavia.

"I do not need to tell you that in the view of the United States, given Belgrade's recent actions, we would be justified in imposing even tougher measures," Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said at a news conference after the meeting. But with Russia's agreement today not to stand in the way of a United Nations arms embargo, she said, "We have sustained the minimum degree of pressure needed to move the process forward."

In recent days, Russia, which has veto power in the Council and is Serbia's principal arms supplier, had publicly backed away from its earlier support for an arms ban.

While Russia had denied that it had any intention of providing new weapons to Yugoslavia, The New York Times reported today that Russia had agreed in principle last December' to sell Yugoslavia tanks, attack helicopters, ground-to-air missiles, MIG-29 warplanes and spare parts. Such a deal would presumably be prohibited under the arms embargo resolution now being drafted at the United Nations.

In Moscow, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry denied the report in The Times.

The six nations meeting here today said in their statement that they would seek passage of the resolution in the Security Council by March 31, next Tuesday.

The United States has had difficulty in persuading its allies to intensify the sanctions on Yugoslavia because of several concessions by President Milosevic and his Government over the last two weeks to the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Last week, the Serbian Government agreed to allow Albanian Students to return to state schools and colleges in the province for the first time in years.

While Washington has said that the concessions do not go nearly far enough in satisfying Western demands for autonomy for the Albanians, the moves have drawn praise from Russia and several European Governments.

The statement issued today by the six nations noted that "there has been progress in some areas of concern, notably some movement in Belgrade's position on dialogue on a range of issues involving the autonomy of Kosovo," and it noted the possibility that existing sanctions on Yugoslavia might be lifted "if President Milosevic takes the steps specified."

American officials said today that, if there is no further progress on Kosovo, Ms. Albright and her counterparts would meet again in four weeks to consider a series of sanctions, including a freeze on Serbia's assets abroad, and travel restrictions on the families of officials in the Yugoslav Government involved in the Kosovo crackdown.

"We are determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past," Ms. Albright said. "We are moving gradually but unmistakably forward in the direction of greater pressure against Belgrade. The only way out for President Milolsevic is through meaningful dialogue" with the Albanian community.

The United States and other nations have warned that the crackdown by Serbian paramilitary forces in Kosovo could lead to a new war in the Balkans.

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