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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, West Hit Snags on Kosovo

BONN, Germany -- Foreign ministers from eight nations negotiating Balkan peace suspended talks Monday so the Russian delegation could consult with Moscow on critical points, a Western source said on condition of anonymity.

Without elaborating, the source said the Russians wanted time to discuss three significant parts of a United Nations resolution being drafted by the diplomats. Talks were to resume Tuesday.

Despite assurances from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that he will carry out a peace deal, officials in Bonn said the talks on drafting a UN Security Council resolution called for under the agreement were stalled on Serbian troop withdrawal from Kosovo.

The issue has stymied the delicate diplomatic efforts from the start, and derailed high-level military talks in Macedonia on Sunday.

U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin reported slow progress in the talks. "They have overcome some of the problems. But the sticky one continues to remain of exactly how the force will be created,'' he said.

A Russian delegation official said Russia was insisting on a halt in bombing before it approves a UN resolution.

Rubin downplayed the objection. "The Russians have made no secret of the fact that they would rather have the bombing stop today, yesterday, or even 73 days ago,'' he said.

But Rubin acknowledged that sticking points revolved around whether a peace force would be under NATO or UN command, and whether its mandate would be peacekeeping or peace enforcement, the latter implying the use of force.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, was consulting with Moscow, and underlined the ministers' determination to continue work until they have an agreement in hand.

"The work is progressing well. Except for very few points, we are finished with the paper,'' Fischer said.

The European Union's Kosovo envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, meanwhile, was en route to Beijing to win Chinese backing for the resolution. China, along with Russia, said NATO airstrikes must stop before the accord can be brought before the UN Security Council. Both countries hold permanent seats on the Security Council and have veto power.

Before leaving, Ahtisaari spoke to Milosevic by telephone and relayed assurances to eight foreign ministers meeting here that the Yugoslav leader would endorse the peace plan agreed to Thursday. Despite the breakdown in military talks in Macedonia, Ahtisaari told U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the other foreign ministers that, "Milosevic says he intends to go forward with the agreement,'' Rubin said.

He said Ahtisaari told Milosevic that NATO allies don't want to allow any gap between the time Serb forces leave Kosovo and the time international peacekeepers arrive. "None of us want to see a security vacuum in Kosovo,'' Rubin quoted Ahtisaari as saying to Milosevic.

Albright and the other foreign ministers were working on the text of a UN resolution that Rubin said directs the Serbs to "stop putting forward proposals that are inconsistent with the agreements they signed.''

The Serbs say they are required to withdraw only to "peacetime'' levels, or about 15,000, one U.S. official said. The NATO allies, however, are demanding a total pullout, with a few hundred Serb troops then permitted to return as a symbol of Serb sovereignty in the province.

The resolution also would endorse having NATO at the core of the peacekeeping force that would help hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians return to their homes, Rubin said.

The Russian delegation was objecting to that language, said British officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Russians also were balking at a preamble referring to the war-crimes indictment of Milosevic and to one article in the resolution that would empower peacekeepers to take "robust'' military measures to ensure peace.

The diplomats also are working on a civilian administration for the beleaguered province.

Rubin flatly blamed the Yugoslavs for the impasse in the Macedonia talks. He said Yugoslav military leaders had failed to give NATO commanders an adequate plan for the withdrawal of Serb troops from Kosovo - and that NATO's bombing campaign would continue until they did.

But, he said, "We will continue to make diplomatic efforts with our G-8 colleagues towards a peaceful resolution of this conflict.''