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Yugoslavia: U.S. Moving Toward Full Recognition For Belgrade

  • Lisa McAdams

U.S. officials are moving toward a full resumption of diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia, perhaps as early as November. But as RFE/RL Washington Correspondent Lisa McAdams reports, ousted President Slobodan Milosevic continues to be a worrying factor for U.S., European, and Yugoslav officials.

Washington, 17 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- America's floodgates of diplomacy have taken their first swing open toward Yugoslavia in almost a decade, with U.S. President Bill Clinton lifting the oil embargo and ban on U.S. flights to the Balkan nation.

The U.S. imposed the sanctions on Yugoslavia, comprised of Serbia and Montenegro, back in 1998 after then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic cracked down on Kosovar Albanians. The U.S. later led NATO's intervention against Yugoslavia, a campaign that still stirs hostility in Belgrade and in Moscow, a traditional Serb ally.

But now, instead of the all too familiar U.S. and international troops or tanks moving in, Yugoslavia is increasingly more likely to be welcoming U.S. and European diplomats in blue suits and black cars.

This, after a first meeting late last week in Belgrade between U.S. President Bill Clinton's special adviser for the Balkans, James O'Brien, and newly-elected Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Both men were reported to have shown signs of mutual willingness on the part of their countries to improve their thawing relations.

No precise timetable for a restoration of diplomatic ties between Washington and Belgrade emerged from the talks, but Kostunica is reported to have told O'Brien that Washington can establish a small, diplomatic office at a Belgrade hotel in the interim.

U.S. embassy personnel withdrew from Belgrade in 1999, before the NATO bombing campaign began. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher earlier told reporters in Washington that each side now has some steps to take before diplomatic relations can be restored.

"On our side, what we need to do without legislature is get money. We need funding from the (U.S.) Congress to re-open the embassy. On their side, President Kostunica needs to form a government, he needs to name a new foreign minister, and then he needs to get parliamentary approval for this step of establishing a relationship."

Monday saw another key advance for the pro-democracy movement, with word of the pro-Milosevic Serbian government agreeing to share power with President Kostunica's followers in an interim Serb government and to hold early elections in Serbia. But things may not be so clear back in the United States, where already there are rumblings in Congress, and elsewhere, that the U.S. should not rush to disperse economic aid.

In a New York Times commentary Monday, two U.S. Senators with influence over the dispensing of U.S. assistance said further international support for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia should be tied to its willingness to hand over accused war criminals, including Milosevic.

The two, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, say Yugoslavs deserve early relief from sanctions because of their courage in voting Milosevic out of office. But they say additional support from international lending institutions must be tied to surrendering Milosevic to the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) in the Hague.

"History will be unkind and unforgiving in judging us, if we fail to support the work of the war crimes tribunal at this critical time," the Senators wrote. They also questioned the ability to secure real peace and stability in the Balkans as long as Milosevic lurks in the shadows or worse, manages to carry out his pledge of playing a continued political role.

Other critics of the Administration's policy have been quick to note publicly the long-standing U.S. policy on Milosevic contained in the often repeated mantra of "Out of power, out of the country and in the Hague." That phrase, uttered by Senior U.S. officials for months but no longer, has led these same critics to question whether any of these conditions have indeed been met.

And even the Serbian-American community is characterized as very divided about the issue of sanctions and whether U.S. legislation should condition aid on Milosevic being turned over to the Hague tribunal, which has indicted him.

But Ivo Daalder, a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington disagrees. He says Milosevic's political power is waning by the day and that insisting too strongly now on getting indicted war criminals into the Hague may actually weaken the ability of the new Kostunica regime to consolidate power.

Daalder says the Tribunal was in fact created to ensure justice is done, not to insist people stand trial in specific places. Further, Daalder says domestic jurisdiction over accusations of war crimes is, quote, "paramount."

"The International Criminal tribunal in the Hague exists because the countries themselves were unwilling or unable to take care of this issue. If Serbia proves to be able and willing to take care of Mr. Milosevic, and to take care of other Serb indicted war criminals in Bosnia and elsewhere, in a way that fully does justice to circumstances, why should we insist that the international criminal tribunal (ICTY) in the Hague do it?"

Moreover, Daalder says he agrees U.S. policymakers have and should continue to attach what he calls economic conditionality to any future aid into Yugoslavia. In other words, he says aid should be tied to guarantees that political and economic circumstances will be favorable toward reform.

Daalder says that is the kind of conditionality the U.S. and its allies exercised in the past with regard to Russia and all the former East European countries in transition. But Daalder said he does not think U.S. officials should go so far as to suggest tying conditions for aid to a particular set or sets of behaviors, be it cooperation with the ICTY, or with some other lingering questions.

"I think the time has passed for that kind of conditionality (on aid) given what has happened the past two weeks inside Serbia and I would agree with the (Clinton) Administration that now the issue is to provide immediate assistance rather than figure out how we can link that assistance to particular patterns of behavior."

U.S. President Bill Clinton has said only that more significant sanctions, like the denial of much-needed lending from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) would be reviewed, as the democratic transition proceeds and Kostunica's hold on power further solidifies. No one thinks it will be easy. But Daalder says the direction of U.S. policy toward Yugoslavia, at least in the interim, is imminently clear.

"Our challenge is to be supportive of the new regime. This is the regime we wanted. We wanted (ousted President Slobodan) Milosevic to leave. We now have a regime dedicated to our very goal and that of our allies -- a Serbia and a Yugoslavia that is part of the European mainstream. We should help Mr. Kostunica achieve that goal."

Later there will be plenty of time, Daalder says, to return to the thorny issues of future status for Kosovo and Montenegro, for example, once democracy takes hold. But he said now is the time for the Serbian people to once again rise to the challenges before them and decide how best their transition will unfold. In this sense, Daalder says, America must move from lead actor to a supporting role.