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Western Press Review: More Kosovo Assessments

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 15 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators continue to assess the agreement on Kosovo between U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic concluded earlier this week. Who won, some papers ask. How substantial is the accord, ask other analysts. Here's a sampling of the wide range of opinions on the subject.

GUARDIAN: The agreement is very flawed

Britain's Guardian newspaper today puts its question this way: "Have we caught Slobodan Milosevic or has he caught us?" In an editorial, the paper answers: "The agreement which Richard Holbrooke has brought back from Belgrade is very flawed. Potentially it gives us some leverage over Serbia --but it also gives Milosevic leverage over us."

The editorial continues: "What can be said for the agreement is that it will allow aid to reach Kosovo's refugees and let monitors in to try to ensure that they are not again molested by Milosevic's forces. As for the rest, it ties him to certain things which would make him subject to armed sanction if he does not deliver. It also ties us down and makes such sanction more difficult by committing us to an aid and verification operation vulnerable to harassment and obstruction."

The Guardian concludes: "It can be assumed with certainty that Milosevic's delegation will enter (the talks on Kosovo's future) in bad faith....It must be our intention to outwit him."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Repeated backtracking have only made the West look ridiculous

The Wall Street Journal Europe today is far more pessimistic about the accord, titling its editorial, "Too Late for Kosovo." The paper writes: "What has become increasingly evident over the past seven months is that the West really wants no part in resolving the crisis in Kosovo. The (Holbrooke-Milosevic) agreement is just the latest evidence of this. It allows U.S. President Bill Clinton to declare peace in Kosovo, no matter how temporary, while providing himself with a new excuse (the unarmed 'peacekeepers') to avoid military action when the fighting begins again."

The WSJ continues: "It might have been reasonable for the West to declare Kosovo an intractable problem from the beginning. Instead, its repeated threats --which it has no interest in fulfilling-- and repeated backtracking have only made the West look ridiculous."

The paper adds: "The absurdity has been highlighted further this week by Mr. Holbrooke's strange claims that thanks to his diplomacy, the 'crisis' in Kosovo 'has metastasized into an emergency.'"

WASHINGTON POST: There are grounds for skepticism

The Washington Post says that "there are unfortunate grounds for skepticism about the deal that was struck." In its editorial yesterday, the paper wrote: "(The agreement) seems to fall short of NATO's original goals. Once again the West has taken on Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic as its partner, and once again the West will be relying on him to keep his word, a risky proposition."

The WP continued: "What Kosovo really needs, at a minimum, is a return of the autonomy it enjoyed until 1989, when Mr. Milosevic imposed a Serbian domination to help cement his nationalist ties to power. This agreement carries no such guarantees....But it remains as true today as yesterday that such things are not likely to happen if the West does not force them to happen."

WASHINGTON POST: The deal on Kosovo is just too pat

Jim Hoagland, the Washington Post's foreign-affairs columnist, says that "after this deal, Milosevic remains the villain." Hoagland writes: "Something about the way Richard Holbrooke pulled his latest diplomatic rabbit out of a Balkan top hat cries out for skepticism. The deal on Kosovo is just too pat."

Hoagland continues: "The deal may do no more than buy time for Kosovo: time for both sides to close down military action for the bitter winter that approaches, time to get those refugees into their homes or better shelter and off the television screens, time for the West to develop a political program to destabilize Mr. Milosevic and guarantee Kosovar autonomy."

He concludes: "That is the direction in which this strange, unconvincing but far from pointless deal at the brink should now be steered."

USA TODAY: U.S. is an essential counterweight to historic rivalries

The daily USA Today says that the accord on Kosovo "demands continuing U.S. commitment." The paper wrote yesterday in an editorial: "Milosevic has an ear for only one language --force. With 400 NATO planes preparing to bombard Yugoslav forces, Milosevic finally grasped the wisdom of compromise in Kosovo."

The paper went on: "Milosevic's promises are unreliable, but an observer force of 2,000 will be able to monitor his activities closely, and the threat of NATO force remains in place, pending more specific commitments from Milosevic, perhaps later this week."

The paper also said: "The...truth is that without U.S. leadership, the deal would not have happened, and without continuing U.S. leadership, including some participation in the eventual peacekeeping force, it will fail. The reason is...the U.S. is an essential counterweight to the historic rivalries that once led to European wars and now paralyze European policy."

NEW YORK TIMES: How much autonomy will Kosovo get under the accord ?

In a news analysis for the New York Times today, correspondent Steven Erlanger writes: "Senior American officials are insisting that they used NATO power successfully in the negotiation with... (Mr.) Milosevic to avert a winter refugee disaster in Kosovo, to defend the ethnic Albanians against Serbian military attacks and to bolster the Kosovo Albanians politically."

But, says Erlanger, "on the basis of what is known, there are serious doubts by some experts that the Clinton Administration pushed Mr. Milosevic hard enough on the issue of real autonomy for Kosovo."

His analysis continues: "Some details of the agreement have...been emerging --including a commitment by Mr. Milosevic to...complete 'the main elements' of a political autonomy agreement with the Kosovo Albanians by Nov. 2, and then free elections within nine months." Still, Erlanger adds: "(Balkan) specialists raised questions...about how much autonomy Kosovo will get under the accord."