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NATO: Kosovo Dominates Conference In Vienna

By Michael Leidig

Vienna, 23 Jun 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Time is running out to act in Kosovo, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana told a NATO workshop in Vienna Monday.

At the Vienna meeting - the first ever NATO conference held in a neutral country - Solana expressed the Alliance's willingness to intervene in the region, without a mandate from the United Nations. According to Solana, a "suitable mandate" could also be given by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Most experts believe Russia and China would veto a mandate for NATO action in Kosovo, if the matter were to go before the Security Council.

Solana called the situation in the Balkans "the greatest challenge" for NATO. "Our continent will not find long-term peace or stability when unrest continues in the Balkans," he said. "The fragile peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Kosovo crisis reminds us that a part of Europe continues to be endangered by instability."

Solana stopped short of committing the Alliance to military intervention. However, he added that NATO is currently considering its options. "No, and I repeat, no options have been excluded. All our energies have been concentrated on diplomatic efforts," he said, adding that diplomacy is doubtless more efficient, when the threat of a military operation is behind it.

The crucial point is that they must act fast, according to Solana. "Every day is critical," warned Solana. "The more time that passes, the more critical it becomes, because the positions become ever more radical. Thus the solution also becomes more difficult."

At the NATO workshop, Solana called for a "stronger European personality" to the military pact, though he added that U.S. participation continues to be necessary for the success of the Alliance. Aside from Solana and military representatives from the member nations, top government officials from Central and Eastern European countries are taking part in the workshop, entitled "Security Challenges of the New NATO."

The Presidents of Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and twelve defense and foreign ministers from member and partner nations have also joined in the discussions in Vienna. (Romania's President Emil Constantinescu returned to Bucharest, because of flooding in northern Romania).

In conjunction with the NATO workshop, the foreign ministers of Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ukraine, as well as Albania's Prime Minister Fatos Nano, are taking part in talks about security in Central Europe.

Nano yesterday again called for NATO intervention at the workshop to prevent the Kosovo crisis from escalating, saying his country was "on the eve of war" with neighboring Yugoslavia. Nano said, "The Albanian state and government has to face, on its northeastern border, a situation of real war with all its consequences, victims, economic damage, lots of refugees and considerable increase of defense costs."

Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova is expected to meet Solana at NATO headquarters in Brussels this week.

The NATO meeting has also reopened the heated debate in Austria over joining NATO. Solana said that the "door is always open" for Austria to join the military pact. At a joint news conference with Austria's Defense Minister Werner Fasslabend, Solana added that since Austria will take over the European Union presidency next month, the neutral country bears some responsibility for the situation in Kosovo. "It makes no difference, whether Austria is a NATO member or not," said Solana. "Austria is already very much involved with NATO in all questions which have to do with European security."

Austria's Greens criticized the government for what the party called "rolling out the red carpet" for NATO, and saying the government was using the NATO workshop to act as a de facto member of the Alliance. At the workshop, Austria's President Thomas Klestil said Austria "cannot remain on the sidelines when freedom is at stake," though he has called for a referendum on NATO membership.

A leader of the government coalition, People's Party leaders Wolfgang Schuessel, called Austria's participation in the workshop "the end of classic neutrality."