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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Tops Agenda At NATO And White House

Washington, 27 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright leaves for Europe today for two days of meetings with her counterparts from NATO member states and former Warsaw Pact countries.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said yesterday that the fighting in Serbia's Kosovo province is expected to dominate the NATO consultations tomorrow and Friday in Luxembourg.

He said NATO allies tomorrow plan to discuss the role of NATO and the United Nations in the Kosovo crisis, and plans for troop deployment in border regions to stop the conflict from spreading to neighboring Macedonia and Albania.

The U.S. wants to be sure of contingency plans should the crisis spin out of control, Rubin said.

Reports from Brussels say NATO strategists have devised several possible scenarios of increasing involvement.

At the low end of the scale, NATO could reinforce a current UN force of 800 troops on Macedonia's border with Serbia.

Another plan calls for a small force of NATO observers to help Albanians patrol their border with Kosovo to stop Federal Yugoslav units from straying across the line in pursuit of Kosovo ethnic Albanian rebels.

A third possible option further into the future would call for deployment of up to 23,000 NATO troops on the Albanian border.

But in Luxembourg this week, the U.S. and its allies are expected to announce only a flexing of military strength in joint military exercises to be held in Macedonia and Albania.

After the western allies conclude their consultations, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov will join the gathering for a session tomorrow afternoon of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council.

The State Department says he and Albright are also expected to have separate bilateral talks.

Albright will follow a similar schedule Friday, meeting separately with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko, as well as attending a session of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. She plans to leave Luxembourg to return to Washington late Friday.

Meanwhile, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova will be receiving unprecedented attention in Washington, making his case to top U.S. officials.

He is scheduled to arrive in Washington tonight, accompanied by key advisors Fehmi Agani and Veton Surroi.

RFE/RL's correspondent says Rugova will have high-level talks at the State Department tomorrow, including a meeting with the top U.S. negotiator for the Balkans, Robert Gelbard.

Gelbard originally planned to accompany Albright to Luxembourg but stayed behind because of Rugova's pending visit.

On Friday, Rugova has been invited to the White House for talks with President Bill Clinton. It will be their first meeting and the highest U.S. recognition of Rugova's position as leader of the majority ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo.

But Washington officials say there will be no change in the U.S. view which rejects Kosovars' claims to independence and maintains the province must remain part of Serbia.