Prague, 12 October 1998 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said today that Yugoslav officials have not yet satisfied U.N. demands to halt their crackdown in Kosovo, despite last-minute efforts to persuade them to do so and avoid threatened NATO air strikes. In Belgrade, talks between U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic were suspended at midday. Correspondents said it was unclear whether they would resume later in the day. NATO officials in Brussels are to meet later today to consider authorizing air strikes against Serb military targets.
Cohen said U.S. intelligence reports show a continuing strong presence of Yugoslav security forces in Kosovo. He said there has been some movement by these forces, but "not nearly enough" to comply with Security Council resolutions. Cohen made the remarks during a Persian Gulf tour.
The UN Security Council has demanded Belgrade withdraw its forces from Kosovo and allow the return of more than 340,000 displaced ethnic Albanians.
An activation order from NATO officials today would permit air strikes without indicating how much time remains for a diplomatic solution to be reached.
In the hours leading up to the NATO talks, the governments of Germany, Italy and Portugal gave their approval for any eventual NATO operation against Yugoslavia over the Kosovo crisis. Their approval clears the way for NATO envoys meeting in Brussels to issue the activation order later today.
The order is the final political step in NATO's phased procedures before actual military action, but does not automatically trigger military strikes.
Russia, meanwhile, recalled two of its senior officials from NATO headquarters in Brussels for emergency consultations in Moscow.
First word of the recall came late yesterday, but further details were released by the Russian defense ministry today. According to the ministry, the recall applies to Lieutenant General Viktor Zavarzin, Russia's military representative at NATO headquarters in Brussels. The country's top civilian diplomat to NATO, Sergei Kislyak, was also recalled.
The ministry says no deadline has been set for their return to Brussels. Foreign Ministry official Vladimir Chizhov today characterized the recall as "quite usual diplomatic practice."
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia was surprised to learn NATO's council planned to decide whether to launch military strikes, before U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke had presented the results of his talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to the Contact Group.