Washington, 18 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The White House says the U.S. is very concerned about a Serbian military buildup in and around the mostly ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo.
At a press briefing in Washington Wednesday, President Bill Clinton's deputy national security adviser James Steinberg said the Serb military movements are being closely watched.
Steinberg said: "We're obviously very concerned about what we're seeing in terms of military movements by Serbia. It's a matter of serious concern to us, and it's something that -- the Serbs have heard directly from us about our concerns. But the president has made very clear that if Serbian intransigence and continued aggression causes these peace efforts to fail, that there will be consequences. And we're watching it very closely."
The U.S. and five European partners want the Serbians and the Kosovars to conclude a peace pact that would give the Kosovars greater autonomy. The Kosovars have said they would sign the accord. The Serbs refuse to accept deployment of an international peace-keeping force on their territory.
The United States said that Belgrade now had 30,000 troops in or near Kosovo and was preparing to go to war with the NATO alliance rather than sign the internationally sponsored autonomy plan for the province.
Steinberg said Yugoslav Federation President Slobodan Milosevic "just needs to understand very clearly that if he continues to use massive repression against the people," of Kosovo, then "NATO has authority to act."
Earlier Wednesday, senior U.S. government and military officials again defended U.S. involvement in the Balkan crisis. At a hearing called by the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, Undersecretary of Defense Walter Slocombe said Washington has a clear national interest in the Balkans.
Slocombe said: "America has clear national security interests at stake in Kosovo and compelling reasons to be involved, both in the diplomatic efforts to settle that, and to participate, if necessary, in NATO military operations in support of those efforts.
"Of course the most obvious aspect of this crisis is humanitarian. The conflict in Kosovo threatens to turn into a humanitarian disaster, with streams of refugees, with people displaced from their homes, and as has just been reported in the papers this morning with the report of the Finnish forensic team, a cold-blooded killing by Serbian, by Belgrade, security forces -- actions which go far beyond anything which could be excused even by the acknowledged provocations that have been committed by some of the Kosovar forces. And this cycle seems to be restarting."
Slocombe said the conflict in Kosovo threatens all of Europe.
"Conflict in Kosovo threatens our calculated, cold-blooded national interests, quite apart from our human sympathies for the victims of the conflict, because that conflict threatens to spread and to jeopardize the security of the entire region and hence that of Europe as well. The crisis in Kosovo represents a direct threat to Balkan stability, the most volatile region in Europe now, as in the past.
"Trouble in the Balkans was the proximate cause of the First World War; it was a major element in the Second. Stability in Kosovo has long been a U.S. interest."
Earlier this week, the 435-member House approved a non-binding resolution endorsing U.S. participation in a NATO-led peacekeeping force for Kosovo. The 100-member Senate is scheduled to consider a similar resolution soon.