Washington, 24 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - A senior White House official defended U.S. President Bill Clinton's Bosnia policy Tuesday and rejected calls to abandon the two-year-old agreement that ended the Bosnian civil war.
Samuel Berger, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, conceded that the agreement -- known as the Dayton Accord after the U.S. city where it was negotiated -- is flawed, but he also said it has worked and will work if all parties remain committed to it.
Berger spoke at Georgetown University in the U.S. administrations first definitive public response to a chorus of Washington critics who say the Dayton pact should be scrapped, and that Bosnia should be partitioned among Muslims, Croats and Serbs.
The 1995 agreement established Bosnia as a federation with a joint presidency consisting of a Muslim, Croat and Bosnian Serb with the capital in Sarajevo. It also set up self-governing regions for each of the three ethnic groups.
One of the more prominent and influential advocates of partition, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) urged the Administration last week to draft a new Bosnia policy or risk losing Congressional support for the U.S. military's participation in the NATO alliance peace implementation force.
Hutchison contends that hardline Bosnian Serbs who do not accept Dayton as the final word on Bosnia and who are loyal to indicted war crimes suspect and former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic will draw the U.S. and its NATO partners in Bosnia into armed conflict.
Berger, however, said that it is too soon to "give up on justice and reward aggression."
Berger also said those who favor partition as a policy are mistaken in their beliefs for several reasons.
First, he said: "the partitionists are wrong because accepting partition means ratifying the worst ethnic cleansing in Europe in more than half a century."
Berger also said that partition would be wrong because it would send a message "to ethnic fanatics everywhere that the international community will allow redrawing of borders by force."
He said partition would create ethnically pure states of the type that "often harbor a dangerous sense of grievance." These entities, he said, would be inherently unstable, ultimately not viable and inclined to expansionist aggression. Partition, said Berger, would lead not to peace but to war.
Berger said that, "in short, to advocate partition is to accept defeat."
He also said there is mounting evidence that critics of Dayton "are wrong on the facts and that the choices made at Dayton are producing real, positive change in Bosnia."
The peace accord, he said, "has kept the guns silent," and has kept Bosnia intact. Berger said that while proceeding slowly, the rebuilding of the country is still moving forward and that life is generally improving.
Berger said a survey taken by the U.S. Information Agency reported that a majority of Muslims, Croats and Serbs in Bosnia believes that conditions are in place for a lasting peace.
Peace, said Berger, is beginning to take root. He warned, however, that the gains are not irreversible and that the international community will have to remain deeply involved in Bosnia for years to come.