Washington, 4 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton has cautiously welcomed movement by Belgrade toward accepting a Kosovo peace agreement but said it was not enough to end NATO's air campaign.
Clinton said Thursday at the White House the military alliance must be prudent. He said until Serb forces begin pulling back from Kosovo, both diplomatic efforts and military action would continue.
Clinton said: "Movement by the Serbian leadership to accept these conditions, established by NATO and the international community is, of course, welcome. But based on our past experience, we must also be cautious."
Clinton added: "First, we must have clarity that the Serbian leadership has fully accepted these conditions and intends to fully implement them. Until then, and until Serb forces begin a verifiable withdrawal from Kosovo, we will continue to pursue diplomacy, but we will also continue the military effort that has brought us to this point."
In addition to the withdrawal of Serb forces and paramilitary units from the province, NATO is pressing for the return of ethnic Albanian refugees and the stationing of an international peacekeeping force in Kosovo with a NATO core. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has resisted permitting NATO troops in the country but he now appears to have backed down.
It is still not clear what the exact makeup of the proposed 50,000-strong force would be. The United States this week announced it would contribute about 7,000 troops and said it would welcome Russian participation under a unified command run by NATO. Russia says it would be willing to send troops into Kosovo to maintain peace and safeguard the refugees but has been reluctant to place them under NATO command.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott acknowledged in Brussels Thursday night that details still need to be worked out with Moscow. He expressed hope that the Russians would join up with the alliance in Kosovo.
At the White House, Clinton met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- the top U.S. military officials -- to assess the Kosovo campaign and to discuss planning for the peacekeeping force. Clinton has said NATO is not contemplating dispatching combat ground troops to fight their way into Kosovo, saying he has confidence that the air campaign would succeed.
At the State Department, spokesman James Rubin assessed the Kosovo situation this way.
Rubin said: "So our watchword of the day is caution, codification and implementation. Caution about the extent to which this does constitute Serb acceptance of the terms and conditions NATO requires; codification ... to ensure that all the necessary details have been accepted."
He added: "And obviously the million and a half Kosovar Albanians who have been kicked out of their homes by the Serb forces in this brutal act of ethnic cleansing want to go back to their homes and can do so."
The United States also said it saw no place in a reconstructed Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) for Milosevic, who was indicted May 27 by the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague along with four top aides.
State Department's Rubin said Milosevic's surrender to the court had not been a condition of the Kosovo settlement agreed by Belgrade on Thursday.
But he added: "It is our view that all countries should submit war criminals to The Hague."
Rubin said there are a number of necessary steps before the U.S. could support Serbian integration into the rest of Europe, including reconstruction assistance. He said Washington is not willing to provide economic aid to Serbia until it embraced democracy.
Veteran foreign policy specialist Helmut Sonnenfeld of the Brookings Institution, a private think tank based in Washington, said Serbia is going to be in need of enormous outside help.
Sonnenfeld said: "I think that will put a lot of additional pressure on Yugoslavs to get another government."
Ivo Daalder, a Balkan expert and former member of Clinton's National Security Council, said NATO must avoid allowing Milosevic any say in how to implement the settlement,.
Daalder said: "Once we are in there we rule the place and we must not care what Milosevic thinks."
Republican Congressman Benjamin Gilman of New York, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, stressed that the Kosovars must be assured of autonomy within Yugoslavia.
Gilman also said the bulk of economic aid to the Balkans should be borne by Europe because it was the United States that is paying for most of the air campaign.