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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, West Move Closer on Kosovo




Russia and the Western powers are set to agree Thursday on the broad outlines of a political settlement to the Kosovo conflict, but big gaps remain on key issues and an end to NATO airstrikes seems remote, diplomats said.


Foreign ministers of the Group of Eight countries - the United States, Russia, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Japan - are to meet near Bonn for their first session since NATO began bombing Yugoslavia on March 24, sparking fury in Moscow.


Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who is to attend the G-8 meeting, and Balkan envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, just back from talks with U.S. leaders in Washington, agreed Wednesday that Moscow and NATO were moving closer on the main principles of a political solution to the crisis in Yugoslavia.


"Now we [Russia and the U.S.] really understand what is going on in the Balkans and we understand what must be done," said Chernomyrdin, who was expected to brief President Boris Yeltsin on his trip Thursday.


German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der, whose country holds the G-8 chair this year, told parliament that Russia and the West had narrowed their differences "both about the facts and in central political positions" sufficiently to make the meeting useful.


Western diplomats said the G-8 would back a statement calling for an international security force to protect the return of all refugees to Kosovo, a withdrawal of Serbian forces and an international interim administration for the Serbian province.


In deference to Russian sensitivities, it would not mention explicitly a role for NATO in the security force, but the West would continue to insist the alliance form the core.


The joint statement could be a prelude to a mandatory United Nations resolution on the terms for a peace settlement, but that would require substantial further work, diplomats said.


"It is a step forward because it brings the Russians onside with us on a major part of the agenda and increases [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's isolation," a senior Western official said. "But we are still far from peace."


U.S. President Bill Clinton, who visited U.S. military personnel in Germany on Wednesday, said NATO countries must be included in any peacekeeping force.


"I wouldn't go back home without the United States and NATO, without our allies being involved in it,'' Clinton said in an interview granted to NBC aboard Air Force One.


As Clinton spoke, NATO continued pounding Yugoslav military airports, power lines and oil depots all over the country. Allied officials said some of the strikes had to be abandoned because of poor weather.


Yugoslav officials stood firm in their defiance.


Foreign Ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vujovic said Wednesday that Yugoslavia will pull some of its forces out of Kosovo only after NATO troops leave neighboring countries.


Vujovic also said an unarmed UN mission in Kosovo was possible, but its composition and mandate and other details could be decided upon only by the United Nations and Yugoslavia.


Diplomats involved in drafting the G-8 statement said Britain took the hardest line on NATO's terms for halting the bombing.


British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook cautioned reporters: "Our aim tomorrow will be to get common ground on the principles of a settlement. I cannot guarantee that we will secure such a successful outcome and we do not want peace at any price."


The G-8 meeting was given an intriguing twist by the surprise arrival of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian political leader, Ibrahim Rugova, and his family in Rome on Wednesday with the approval of the Yugoslav authorities in another gesture by Belgrade aimed apparently at pressuring NATO to stop the air war.


Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini may take fresh word to Bonn on the state of negotiations between Milosevic and Rugova - discounted by NATO as having been conducted under duress. Rugova, a pacifist elected politician, has lost ground politically to the militant Kosovo Liberation Army.


Diplomats said Thursday's G-8 statement would still leave four outstanding differences between NATO and Moscow: the composition and mandate of an international force, which the West says must be heavily armed and have NATO as its core; whether Serbian forces have to withdraw totally or partially from Kosovo, and how such a pullout would be phased with an end to the NATO bombing campaign and the deployment of the international security force; whether a settlement has to be negotiated with Milosevic or can be imposed on Belgrade; which institution runs the provisional administration of Kosovo with what powers.


German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the G-8 meeting was an important step toward a Security Council resolution under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, providing for the use of force to uphold international peace and security.


"We must get a Chapter Seven resolution. If we get that basis, I think we will get substantial movement in Belgrade," he said.


Cook said Russia had so far stood in the way of a UN resolution. "What has been very encouraging for the past two weeks is that it has been clear that Russia has been moving closer towards our position - not there yet, but it has been moving to a recognition that the ethnic cleansing must be reversed and that will take a military presence," he said.


Ivanov attributed the progress to the "active shuttle diplomacy" of Chernomyrdin.


He said there were still differences, "but this is understandable as the situation has gone too far and the problems we face are too complicated."


Ivanov said these difference were unlikely to be solved immediately at Thursday's G-8 summit.


"We are hoping to achieve certain steps forward in finding a political solution. At the same time I have to look at things realistically and say I don't feel great optimism of some kind of breakthrough," he said.


Western governments have given top diplomatic priority since NATO's Washington summit to drawing Russia closer to the Western terms for a settlement to maximize pressure on Milosevic.


Belgrade has meanwhile been trying to pull Russia across to its side of the table, announcing a seven-point accord with Chernomyrdin last Friday that was far removed from the West's peace terms.


NATO leaders still hope an increasingly devastating bombing campaign and world diplomatic pressure will make Belgrade cave in without the West having to send in combat troops.


Vujovic, the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry spokesman, praised Russia's role in trying to find an end to the conflict


"Russia is not acting as a loose cannon. It is taking into account our position and by insisting on a political resolution of the issue it is playing a most important role and we have a very positive approach to it," he said.