Washington, 19 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- It is the Belgrade government's last chance today to turn its violent confrontation with ethnic Albanians into a genuine political dialogue or face sanctions imposed by the international community.
The United States issued a strong warning Wednesday that if President Slobodan Milosevic of Federal Yugoslavia ignores the ultimatum of the so-called Contact Group and continues what Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called "brutal repression" in the Kosovo province, the members of the group -- Russia, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and the U.S. -- will consider additional punitive measures to the ones decided earlier this month.
Those include a possible arms embargo against Serbia, a refusal to grant visas to Serb officials and a freeze on economic assistance. The U.S. State Department has said the sanctions would not apply to Montenegro, the other component of the Yugoslav Federation headed by Milosevic.
Albright did not elaborate on the new measures. But she told a U.S. congressional committee "there should be no doubt that we are prepared to take further actions...and we will keep all options open to do what is necessary to prevent another wave of violence from overtaking the Balkans."
She said foreign ministers of the six nations will meet in Bonn next week to consider next steps against Serbia.
At a similar session in London on March 9, they decided to give Milosevic's government ten days to stop using force against Kosovo protesters and take steps towards more autonomy for the majority Albanian population.
With reports Wednesday of more violence in the Kosovo town of Pec and tensions still running high, diplomatic pressure intensified on several fronts to defuse and confine the Kosovo crisis.
In the United Nations in New York, the Contact Group worked to gather support for an arms embargo against Serbia. U.S. officials expressed hope a resolution could be adopted by the UN Security Council today or tomorrow, if necessary.
In Pristina in Kosovo, America's top negotiator on the Balkans, Robert Gelbard, made some progress with Kosovo leaders. He told reporters after talks with self-styled Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova that the ethnic Albanians would now be ready to sit down with the Serbs.
Previously, they were rejecting any talks that were not about independence. The U.S. and other countries favor autonomy for Kosovo and do not support ethnic Albanian demands for Kosovo's independence.
Gelbard said Rugova plans to form a broad-based advisory group for talks with Serbian officials and praised the intention as "a serious and honest effort" to start a constructive political dialogue.
Gelbard also warned Milosevic of harsher sanctions to follow if he continues to use force against the Kosovo Albanians.
Gelbard continues his mission in Europe today but has no plans to go to Belgrade. However, the foreign ministers of France and Germany were expected there today for talks with Milosevic.
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov is also still in the region after meeting with Milosevic on Tuesday to deliver a letter from President Boris Yeltsin on the Kosovo situation. Its contents have not been made public.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott also continues his Balkan diplomatic mission to prevent the violence from spreading and drawing neighboring countries into the Kosovo conflict.
He said in Bulgaria yesterday that while the U.S. is keeping all options open, it is emphasizing at this point political, economic and diplomatic means to resolve the crisis.
Talbott said the U.S. will work with NATO to strengthen stability in the region but is not considering the further deployment of NATO forces.
In Washington, Albright said at the congressional hearing that the purpose of punitive measures against Serbia is not to return Kosovo to the status quo of last month. She said "stopping the killing is not enough, too much damage has already been done,"
Albright added that "if Serbia wishes to ease its international isolation, it must show readiness to shift from repression to a search for a genuine political solution."
She said "the U.S. will continue in the days ahead to explore all possibilities for dialogue and to emphasize that the use of violence by either side to resolve political problems is unacceptable and wrong."
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate late last night unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the Serb action in Kosovo and expressing outrage at the recent killings of ethnic Albanians.
The resolution calls for international human rights monitors to be sent to the province and expresses support for a dialogue between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians to peacefully resolve their problems.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar non-binding resolution earlier in the day to express the sense of the U.S. Congress.
During discussion of the resolution on the Senate floor, Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut) said the world needs to know that it was Milosevic who ordered the brutal use of force and is responsible for the killings.
He said the resolution also lets the ethnic Albanian minority know that Washington hears their voices and hears their cries and will do what it can to help.