Washington, 16 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- President Slobodan Milosevic of Federal Yugoslavia met Russia's President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow today (Tuesday) amidst a swirl of conflicting international expectations and differences over the Kosova crisis.
Their talks took place against a backdrop of continued violent defiance on the Serb side, escalating action by NATO and the international community, and the revival of a familiar diplomatic play between Russia and the United States on using force to settle conflicts.
In a sequence reminiscent of the Bosnia war years in the early 1990s, and the Iraqi crisis this winter, Russia is complaining about the West's readiness to use force, urging continued reliance on diplomacy and seeking to play mediator in the Kosova crisis.
The U.S. in response is trying to minimize the differences, stressing loudly that both countries are in agreement on ultimate goals and diverge only in what they think is the best way to get there.
The latest U.S.-Russian exchanges started Monday with an angry rebuke by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev that NATO had misled his government about Monday's mock air raids -- staged by NATO in a thunderous show of force less than 20 kilometers away from Kosova.
He made the complaint after talks with visiting General Henry Shelton, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. But Shelton said the two sides are close in their views and agree more than they disagree, adding vaguely that "there is some difference in terms of exactly the technique that might be used to go about it."
In Washington, White House spokesman Michael McCurry was swift to reject the Russian charge, stating: "we believe we accurately and substantively exchanged views on the situation in Kosova, including the intentions of the North Atlantic Council (NATO's governing body)."
He said Yeltsin and President Bill Clinton would be consulting by telephone to address the Kosova issue.
But when they did talk Monday -- for 40 minutes -- McCurry told reporters there was no specific mention of the massive NATO air exercises over Macedonia and Albania in which some 85 fighter jets from 13 countries took part.
Papering over the U.S.-Russian differences, he said "the two presidents were in agreement that it is important to work together to find the right diplomatic approaches that can convince Milosevic and his regime to do the right thing," adding that "President Yeltsin indicated he was going to do everything he could to convince Milosevic of the precariousness of Serbia's position."
At the State Department, spokesman James Rubin detailed what the U.S. expected to happen at the Kremlin today. He said the U.S. believes "President Yeltsin intends to deliver a tough message to Milosevic and we hope the Serbian leader is finally wise enough to take advantage of this opportunity."
U.S. officials said they expect Yeltsin to reiterate to Milosevic the demands Russia, the U.S. and other western powers agreed to in London on Friday. Rubin listed them as a halt to use of force against civilians, full access for international monitors and humanitarian organizations, return of displaced persons and refugees, and a genuine dialogue between Serb authorities and the ethnic Albanian leadership.
He said the U.S. is waiting to see what Milosevic will do after the talks with Yeltsin.
If Milosevic does not accept the demands and quickly announce measures to implement them, and instead continues the current offensive against Kosovar Albanians, Rubin said NATO will look at other military action.
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen on a trip to Warsaw said further military options "are being looked at very closely."
NATO defense ministers in Brussels last week asked military planners to consider a wide range of possibilities, including direct intervention with air and ground forces.
Russian officials have said they oppose the use of force against the Serbs, and that it would have to be sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council where Russia has veto power.
A draft resolution approving the use of force in the Kosova crisis is already circulating in the United Nations.
At the State Department, Rubin said Monday that authorization of the use of force by the United Nations Security Council "would be desirable but not imperative" because NATO was created to protect the security of Europe and most Europeans agree the Kosova conflict poses a threat to Europe.
But Rubin stressed that only "the potential use of force" is under discussion. "What we are hoping for," he said "is that President Yeltsin can get through to President Milosevic and we can resolve this peacefully."
But if not, Rubin said the U.S. hopes Russia will see that diplomacy alone is ineffective and will support the UN Security Council Resolution.
More immediately, he said the U.S. hopes Milosevic will see the serious purpose of the major powers about the use of force.