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Yugoslavia: US Says NATO Ready For Action; New Dangers In Kosovo

Washington, 24 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Senior U.S. officials say the situation in the Serb-ruled Kosovo province is deteriorating and NATO is now ready to intervene but diplomacy still remains the preferred and principal tool in efforts to end the crisis.

U.S. Under Secretary of Defense Walter Slocombe told a congressional committee Thursday that NATO has nearly completed its military planning for possible military action in Kosovo and it will now be up to the politicians to decide what to do.

He said NATO planning for air operations will be ready for political review next week and all other military options by the end of August. "If an emergency arises, the pace can be accelerated," Slocombe said.

He made the statement in testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee, inquiring into the situation in Kosovo.

Slocombe said that among the scenarios for action in the air, NATO has plans for policing a no-fly zone, as well as conducting a phased campaign of air strikes on military targets within Federal Yugoslavia.

He said plans for military action on the ground are mostly to enforce an agreed cease fire or peace settlement.

Slocombe stressed that the NATO plans, in his words, "do not indicate any pre-determined plan to intervene militarily in the Kosovo conflict."

America's top diplomat on the Balkans, Ambassador Robert Gelbard, who also testified before the committee, said emphatically that the U.S. has made no decision on the use of force but he said "all options -- including robust military intervention in Kosovo -- remain on the table and (President Slobodan) Milosevic understands that this is no idle threat."

Gelbard said "the conflict in Kosovo has entered a new and potentially more dangerous phase," because of the rapidly growing popularity of the UCK Kosovo Albanian resistance movement, and the continuing failure of Milosevic to take any of the steps required to stop the fighting.

He called for decisive action, beginning with an agreement to cease hostilities to allow peace negotiations. But Gelbard acknowledged, as he put it, that "there is no quick fix for Kosovo."

He said negotiations now have to include the UCK because it has become "a reality on the ground."

But Gelbard condemned some of the UCK tactics, such as kidnapping and attacking Serb civilians.

"Our disgust over the actions of the Serbian security forces in Kosovo does not mean that Albanian extremists should be given a free hand," he said.

Gelbard noted that further violence, no matter who is responsible, will only make it more difficult to achieve a negotiated political settlement.

He said the "UCK will not be able to shoot its way out of Yugoslavia, but neither can Belgrade maintain its authority in Kosovo with a nightstick clutched in an iron hand." He added: "there is no battlefield solution for either side. Only open dialogue and sincere negotiations can resolve the current impasse."