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U.S.: Powell Warns Yugoslavia On Donors Conference

  • Andrew Tully

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell shared his ideas on a wide range of foreign policy issues to members of Congress on 15 May. The topics during a hearing before a Senate panel ranged from Yugoslavia to Russia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Middle East. Our correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 16 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Colin Powell, the U.S. secretary of state, is restating Washington's warning that it may withdraw its support from an international conference on aid to Yugoslavia unless it surrenders former President Slobodan Milosevic to a war crimes trial in The Hague.

Powell made the comments in Washington on 15 May. He was testifying before the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. The panel's members questioned the secretary on a wide range of issues related to how much the State Department will spend on various international issues during the 2002 fiscal year, which begins on 1 October.

Besides Yugoslavia, Powell addressed topics including U.S. financial aid to Russia, its commitment to resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the persistent trouble in the Middle East.

Relations between Belgrade and Washington are at a crucial point. The International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague has indicted former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The U.S. and other Western nations want Yugoslavia to surrender Milosevic, but the Yugoslav Constitution forbids sending a citizen out of the country for trial.

Additionally, Western nations are organizing a conference in Brussels next month to encourage foreign investment in Yugoslavia. But the U.S. -- which could invest the most in the country -- has warned that it may withdraw its support of the donors conference unless Belgrade surrenders Milosevic to The Hague.

At yesterday's hearing in Washington, Powell said the very fact that Yugoslavia has arrested Milosevic on local charges shows that the government of President Vojislav Kostunica is making what he called a "good-faith" effort to surrender Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal. But he added: "I certainly encourage them to understand, without any question about it, that we will not be satisfied until ultimately he [Milosevic] stands before The Hague."

Powell also was asked about the State Department's view of financial aid to Russia. The secretary replied that some aid could be constructive, but he emphasized that it is the responsibility of Russians themselves to make meaningful changes in their country.

He noted that Russia is rich in natural resources and has a highly educated population. He said it is up to these people to get their country moving in the right direction.

"If they can get themselves properly organized in a democratic way with a sound economic system resting on the rule of law, I think that Russia can yet take advantage of its human and natural potential to be a contributing member of the international community."

The administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton -- which ended four months ago -- was widely criticized for being too lenient in its approach to giving aid to Russia. Many critics said unscrupulous Russian businessmen stole American aid -- even loans from the International Monetary Fund -- and took it out of the country, leaving Russia poorer than before the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Powell also deflected criticism of the so-called "Minsk Group" -- Russia, France, and the U.S. -- which is working to help Armenia and Azerbaijan resolve their dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the chairman of the panel, said he did not believe Russia was interested in resolving the problem. McConnell added that the French "are rarely helpful on anything."

The U.S. secretary of state took issue with McConnell's characterization. He said all three members of the Minsk Group are committed to a fair resolution. According to Powell, the unexpected progress made last month in negotiations held in Key West -- in the U.S. state of Florida -- was attributable to the encouragement of Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Jacques Chirac.

Powell added that he hopes Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev will be able to go ahead with more face-to-face negotiations scheduled for an unspecified date next month in Switzerland.

The secretary of state was also asked about various problems in the Middle East. Regarding Iraq, he said he believes the sanctions that the United Nations imposed on Baghdad 10 years ago are effective in keeping President Saddam Hussein from making much progress in his program to develop weapons of mass destruction.

But Powell said he wishes the U.N. inspectors would be allowed back into Iraq to verify that assessment. He added that the sanctions ought to be modified to put more pressure on Saddam's military and less on civilian enterprises. As they are, he says, civil sanctions tend to hurt the Iraqi people more than they limit the power of Saddam's government.

He also addressed the ongoing violence between Palestinians and Israel throughout the past seven months. Powell said the U.S. remains a loyal ally of Israel, but he called upon both sides to show restraint. The secretary said that if a sharp Israeli military reaction to Palestinian violence does not prevent further trouble, then perhaps a more modest response is warranted.