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Western Press Review: Commentators Analyze Kosovo Talks

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 22 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A new deadline on Kosovo looms. The U.S. secretary of state states the bombing threat more certainly. Western Contact Group unity falters. Both sides in Kosovo maintain intransigence. A broad spectrum of the Western press finds all this rich fodder for commentary and analysis.

The most prominent U.S. newspapers, The Washington Post and The New York Times, published editorials over the weekend urging a firm hand, and bombing if necessary, to force Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic to cooperate. But analysts for both newspapers discussed flaws in the bombing scenario.

WASHINGTON POST: Political ramifications are still murky

In the Post analysis, William Drozdiak in Brussels writes: "If the Kosovo peace talks collapse, and blame is pinned on the Serbs, the scenario for the first direct assault in NATO's history against the territory of a sovereign nation already has been written. But while the military blueprint may be precisely drawn, the political ramifications still are murky. Beneath a veneer of consensus, several NATO governments remain troubled by the prospect of seeing a powerful military alliance -- founded on principles of self-defense -- lash out against a country that, for all its excess brutality, has not attacked a NATO member."

NEW YORK TIMES: Few in Belgrade believe that the missiles will ever come

The New York Times' Steven Erlanger, in his analysis, writes from Belgrade that the Serbs remain defiant, in part at least, because they don't believe the threat. He writes: "As NATO's much-advertised deadline passed for a peace accord on Kosovo Province, few if any people in a dismally gray and rainy Belgrade were looking up to the sky for the Western alliance's bombs. Few here seem to believe that the missiles ever will come."

TIMES: It was a frustrating weekend

The Times said today in an editorial: "It was a frustrating weekend for the cause of peace in Kosovo. With the deadline for agreement on a peace plan wisely extended until Tuesday, both parties seemed to slip farther away from signing a deal, and there is new division in the six-nation Contact Group running the talks. The best chance for peace lies with keeping the Contact Group focused on its original demands and its threat to bomb Serbian military targets if the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, remains defiant."

WASHINGTON POST: It is important not to lose sight of the only question that really matters

And The Washington Post editorialized Sunday: "As an isolated event, NATO's decision to delay by three days its bombing campaign against Serbian forces would not be objectionable. Resorting to force is always on one level a defeat." The editorial said: "As talks drag on past NATO's previously unconditional deadline, there are two dangers. One is that the alliance will finally push so many unacceptable conditions on the Kosovars that they feel compelled not to accept. That would allow NATO then to blame both sides for a breakdown of talks, thereby excusing the inaction that many officials, both in Europe and within the Clinton administration, would prefer."

The Post said: "With all the confusion emanating from the negotiations in France, it is important not to lose sight of the only question that really matters: whether Mr. Clinton yet has the will to stand up to Mr. Milosevic. If he does not now, someone will have to do the job later, but it will only grow more difficult, and much more blood will have spilled in the meantime."

European newspapers -- from Liberation in Paris to La Stampa in Turin -- present less hawkish stands.

LIBERATION: Who is going to permit Milosevic to bow down and yet to save face?

Liberation says today: "Milosevic has remained faithful to his reputation and is qualifying his stance by refusing to give the green light to the stationing of NATO troops in Kosovo, which is proposed to be under international control. Who is going to permit Milosevic once more to bow down and yet to save face? The worst case scenario does not allow anyone to say."

JOURNAL DE DIMANCHE: Two concepts cover up the failure of the negotiations

Paris' Journal de Dimanch said Sunday: "French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine spoke on behalf of the negotiators in suggesting a provisional agreement and substantial regulations -� two concepts that cover up the failure of the negotiations without imposing any strain on the future."

LA STAMPA: A control commission permits the Serbs to save face

Italy's La Stampa says: "A control commission and no military occupation, a solution which permits the Serbs to save face and likewise to sustain political equilibrium and one which prevents the West from getting involved in a terrible military conflict. These are the issues at stake in a last ditch attempt to arrive at an agreement in Rambouillet."

TAGESSPIEGEL: The role of NATO is at stake

Tagesspeigel says: "NATO waives air attacks, and that is a good thing. But what is at stake in Rambouillet? It is the role of NATO. Every agreement -- be it a qualified autonomy, or an interim solution or the political rights of the Albanians while remaining in Serbia -- stands and falls with the stationing of NATO units. This, not the unarmed OSCE Mission, constitute the most important guarantees."

WELT AM SONTAG: There is no easy return to politics from a war

Hamburg's Weld am Sontag editorialized yesterday: "It was to be anticipated that Milosevic would play his tricks as the last grains of sand trickle down the hour-glass and were being replenished from above. He acted tough, then again seemed more pliable." The editorial went on: "For NATO there was only a success in the negotiations or tough bandages. Nobody is charging into battle cheerfully. There is no easy return to politics from a war."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Mr. Milosevic is well aware of NATO's quandary

Two British newspapers express editorial ambivalence. The Financial Times says: "NATO has said repeatedly it will not invade Yugoslavia. Yet, as frequently, it threatens to bomb Yugoslavia into allowing its troops in. The apparent contradiction between these positions puts the alliance in a terrible quandary, which Mr. Milosevic is all too well aware of."

GUARDIAN: Kosovar interest lies in a compromise

The Guardian says: "Kosovar reluctance to fudge the issue of independence is understandable, but their interest lies in such a compromise, and they should make it. Yet the moment of truth will not come until the dangerous and unpredictable man [-- Milosevic --] struggling for his political life in Belgrade makes a choice as weighty for us as it is for him."