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Kosovo: Congress Considering Withdrawal Of U.S. Troops

  • Frank Csongos

Efforts are under way in the U.S. Congress to mandate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Kosovo next year unless certain conditions are met. The administration of President Bill Clinton argues that such a move is misguided and poses dangers. RFE/RL Senior Correspondent Frank T. Csongos takes a look at the issues.

Washington, 18 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Congress and the administration of President Bill Clinton are locked in a dispute on whether to take certain steps that could lead to the withdrawal of American peacekeepers from Kosovo.

The House of Representatives approved a proposal on 17 May that would require the pullout of the 5,900 U.S. peacekeepers from the troubled province next year unless NATO allies fulfill their financial commitments to rebuild Kosovo. The U.S. troops are part of a NATO-led force dispatched to Kosovo to keep the peace between ethnic Albanians and Serbs and to prevent the return of Yugoslav troops.

The U.S. Senate is considering an even more strongly worded Kosovo troop withdrawal proposal.

Analysts say the issue before Congress illustrates Congress' frustration with the open-ended nature of the Clinton administration's commitment to Kosovo.

The House passed its measure, on a 264-153 vote, shortly after Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urged U.S. lawmakers not to do so.

"This is playing with fire. In the Balkans, signs of impatience can be misinterpreted as symptoms of weakness. We cannot afford that in a region where weakness attracts vultures."

Albright said if the U.S. troops would leave Kosovo prematurely, they would have to return soon enough to restore civic order.

"If we leave now, I predict now, we'll have to return to the Balkans again and again."

Under the Senate version, the U.S. troops would be pulled out by July 1, 2001, unless Congress specifically authorizes their continued stay.

The House and Senate proposals are not identical. The final language of the legislation would have to be worked out in a House-Senate negotiating committee.

Secretary of Defense William Cohen also has expressed opposition to the withdrawal proposal and said he would recommend that Clinton veto it.

Presumed Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush said this week he also was against tying the hand of a president on a key foreign policy issue.

The House measure requires the president to certify by April 1, 2001, that NATO allies had met most of their commitments for funding police, reconstruction and humanitarian aid activities in Kosovo. Without such certification, U.S. funds could only be spent in Kosovo on withdrawing the troops.

The Senate measure originated with the Senate Appropriations Committee, a panel that plays a key role in funding U.S. government operations. It was a bipartisan effort, sponsored jointly by veteran Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia.