Washington, May 23 (RFE/RL) -- The United States, with increasing bluntness, is putting Serbia on notice that Bosnian Serb leaders, who are indicted war criminals, must be brought to justice, or the U.S. will reimpose economic sanctions against the Belgrade government.
The message was delivered in a four-hour meeting Wednesday between Serb president Slobodan Milosevic and visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and chief negotiator on former Yugoslavia John Kornblum. And it was emphasized at the U.S. State Department in Washington by spokesman Nicholas Burns.
Burns said that "Kornblum made very clear to president Milosevic, our strong belief, our very strong belief that both Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic should be apprehended and brought to justice."
Burns said Serbia has been warned to take action and begin fulfilling its obligations under the Dayton accords but does not have to worry about renewed sanctions just yet.
Burns said that as indicted war criminals, neither Mladic nor Karadzic can participate in Bosnia's national elections to be held by September. He said Karadzic is too well known to be able to move about freely and remains relatively isolated in Pale, without access to major media.
The Bosnian Muslim government this week indicated a reluctance to take part in the election if Karadzic and Mladic remain at large.
Burns said in response that the Bosnian government is a member of the Electoral Commission which has already worked out the election rules and conditions. He said the conditions do not include removing Karadzic and Mladic from power and that "it is not useful at this time to suggest new ideas, new conditions that would effectively put off the elections."
Burns said, everybody, including the Bosnian government, needs to keep focused on common areas of agreement.
Kornblum is expected to make this point when he meets today with Bosnian leaders in Sarajevo before returning to Washington later tonight.
Burns said Kornblum will head back to the region next week in advance of a NATO meeting in Berlin on June 3rd and 4th which will review peacekeeping operations in Bosnia. U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher will attend the Berlin meeting and is likely to have separate talks with Balkan leaders during the trip.
Burns said it has become customary for Christopher to have regular meetings with the presidents of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia. He did not rule out a possibility that Christopher might visit the Balkans while he is in Europe. "We're going to give them (Serbs) a chance to make sure that there is full compliance with Dayton," he said. Burns says Washington still believes diplomacy will work better than punitive measures.
As Burns put it: "we're not yet at the stage where we're willing to give up on the proposition that working diplomatically through the Bosnian Serbs and and the Serb leadership we can accomplish good things."
But he says the U.S. will not wait forever for Belgrade to comply with the Dayton peace accord provisions on bringing indicted war criminals to justice.
At some point, he said, the U.S. will evaluate Serb compliance and if it is inadequate, will use what Burns called "quite significant options at our disposal."
Meanwhile, Burns says the U.S. will, in his words, "calmly, deliberately, and very forcefully" remind Serbia and Bosnian Serbs of their obligation to arrest war criminals and the price there will be to pay for ignoring their Dayton responsibilities. He says Serbia and Bosnian Serbs are on notice and have a chance to reassess and change their position.
That did not happen during Kornblum's Wednesday meeting with Milosevic.
Burns said Milosevic reaffirmed a commitment to the Dayton accords, as he has done many times before, but did not make a specific, clear and unequivocal commitment to arrest Karadzic and Mladic.
Kornblum told reporters after the talks that Milosevic merely suggested amending Serb laws to allow the extradition of suspected war criminals. He said that "if this law is indeed passed, the U.S. hopes the extradition will take place as soon as possible."
Kornblum's hasty two-day visit to the Balkans, as well as the stepped up rhetoric in Washington, expresses U.S. concern at the weekend failure of a move to oust Karadzic from power in Pale in the republika Srpska, as well as Mladic's apparently unhindered visit to Belgrade.
Mladic was in the Serb capital earlier this week, appearing in full uniform at the public funeral of another indicted war criminal and former aide, Gen. George Djukic.
Burns said that "the Serbian government is not in compliance with the Dayton accords" and deplored the failure of Serb authorities to arrest Mladic, calling his appearance in broad daylight "outrageous."
He said the U.S. remains determined to bring Karadzic and Mladic to justice. "They belong in the docket, they belong on trial," Burns said, adding "we do continue to believe that that will happen in the future."