Washington, 1 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A group of former senior American government officials say it's time for the U.S. to abandon support for the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and endorse something more than limited autonomy for the beleaguered ethnic Albanians of Kosovo.
They also called on NATO to commit ground forces to the conflict to stop the alleged atrocities and war crimes reportedly being committed by Yugoslav troops and Serbian police and paramilitary units.
Despite its week-long air offensive aimed at forcing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to cease a campaign of military terror against the Kosovars and accept an international peace agreement, NATO members -- including the U.S. -- have only called on Milosevic to restore the autonomy he stripped from the Kosovars a decade ago.
However, U.S. President Bill Clinton suggested a change in that policy might be under consideration. On Tuesday, Clinton warned Milosevic that, "the prospect of international support for Serbia's claim to Kosovo," will be "increasingly jeopardized" the longer the war continues.
On Wednesday, a bipartisan coalition of former U.S. officials said the alleged Serb crimes against the Kosovars mean that the province can no longer remain a part of Serbia.
The coalition, the Balkan Action Council, met the press in Washington on Wednesday and its leading members said NATO must change its Kosovo strategy if the alliance is to succeed.
Frank Carlucci, a former U.S. Defense Secretary and National Security Council adviser to former President Ronald Reagan, said NATO's objective now "ought to be full political and human rights for the people of Kosovo."
"We're in a war and we need to recognize that it's a war, and allow our military to do what is necessary to prevail in that conflict. If it means broadening the targets set, and it looks like NATO is moving in that direction, so be it. If it means troops on the ground, then so be it, even recognizing that this is an extraordinarily difficult place to fight a land war and it would take time to get troops in ... and in the meantime a lot of the slaughter would continue. But if our goal is to have basic rights and I would say self-determination for the people of Kosovo then we need to do what it takes to get that done."
Carlucci asserted that President Milosevic, "has forfeited any right to rule Kosovo." He said the peace accord worked out earlier this month at Rambouillet, France, "is clearly dead and we have to find some formula for self-determination for the people of Kosovo."
Carlucci said the situation in Kosovo, "has changed dramatically with this vast expulsion of people and this beating up on the Kosovars; so therefore, I think we have to look at this situation quite differently."
At the U.S. State Department on Wednesday, spokesman James Rubin said the issue of independence for Kosovo was what he called an analytical question. However, he also said that the longer the Yugoslav campaign goes on, the less likely the international community will support Milosevic's objective of keeping Kosovo a Serbian province.
And, an anonymous American official told the Reuters news agency that the U.S. shares the view, "that an independent Kosovo is not economically viable... But if Milosevic continues the atrocities and continues the offensive, that view is subject to change."
The official said there could be "a shift in international views on whether Kosovo should remain a part of Yugoslavia or not. There may come a point where we don't think the Kosovo Albanians would be willing to exist, even with substantial autonomy, within Serbia."
At the Balkan Action Council, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeanne Kirkpatrick called Serbian conduct in the military campaign, "the closest thing to genocide that we have seen since Pol Pot's killing fields in Cambodia or Hitler's gas ovens in Auschwitz."
She said that Milosevic has "gone too far," and that Kosovars can no longer be expected to submit to his government.
There were also calls from other quarters for consideration of the concept of partition, or separation, for Kosovars and Serbs.
Another former defense secretary, James Schlesinger, wrote in the Washington Post that: "Since international politics ... remains the art of the possible, we could move toward accepting the emotional realities of the Balkans -- and acquiesce in partition and, to the extent necessary, population separation."
William Hyland, former editor of the quarterly journal Foreign Affairs and an aide to Republican administrations, said dividing Kosovo into ethnic Albanian and Serb parts was the best solution.
In a commentary published in the Post on Wednesday, he wrote: "There is no geographical or historical reason to treat Kosovo as sacrosanct; it will have to be partitioned. One part, probably the largest, should become independent."