Brussels, 1 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Kofi Annan paid a historic first-ever visit by a United Nations Secretary General to the headquarters of NATO in Brussels (Jan. 28) to endorse using the threat of force to achieve peace in Kosovo.
Annan said the threat of force is essential if diplomacy is to succeed in Kosovo and prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in the southern Serbian province. Speaking to reporters after attending a meeting of NATO ambassadors, Annan said:
"I am pushing very hard for a political settlement. If it becomes necessary to use that force [then] that is something else we will need to work out but the threat is essential and it is there."
The visit of the Secretary General gave weight to a new drive by the international community to link its diplomatic and military power together to find a solution to the Kosovo crisis. Annan said that he had discussed ways to bring peace to Kosovo with the NATO council.
In a statement Kofi Annan said:
"We exchanged ideas on where we go from here in Kosovo and also [the] NATO-UN relationship and our efforts for peace. I am encouraged by these talks."
The international community briefly imposed peace on Kosovo in an agreement with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in October. Under the agreement, Milosevic agreed to end a crackdown in the province under a NATO ultimatum to pull back his forces or face air strikes.
But that agreement -- matched by a unilateral ceasefire by Kosovar Albanian rebels and the deployment of international verifiers -- has broken down amid renewed fighting this year.
In Brussels, both Annan and NATO Secretary General Javier Solana stressed that the two sides in the Kosovo conflict must solve their differences at the negotiating table.
Solana said that past conflicts have left the 16-nation military alliance, to quote, with no illusions about the need to use force when all other means have failed. He added: "we may be reaching that limit, once again, in former Yugoslavia".
In welcoming Annan to NATO, Solana said that the UN chief's visit underscored the alliance's desire to use force to support, not replace, diplomatic efforts to find peace. Javier Solana said:
"As you know, at this very moment the international community, altogether, is trying to give an impulse to find and reach peace in Kosovo. And it couldn't be a better moment for the Secretary General of the UN to share his ideas, his comments, his intelligence, with the NATO countries around the table of the Council."
The new peace drive centers on using the threat of force to compel both sides in the Kosovo conflict to begin talks on a draft peace plan. The proposal would grant substantial autonomy to Kosovo while requiring it to remain part of the Serb dominated Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Solana said the threat of military action would be balanced by a NATO commitment to help stem the flow of arms and rebels into Kosovo from neighboring states. Correspondents say the most likely targets of any NATO military strikes would be Serb military installations.
Belgrade has previously rejected the outlines of the proposed peace plan as interference in its internal affairs. The population of Kosovo is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, but is regarded by Serbs as their nation's historical birthplace.
Foreign ministers of six major powers gave a deadline of Feb. 6 for the Belgrade government and ethnic Albanians from Kosovo to open peace negotiations. The six ministers of the Contact Group on former Yugoslavia said in a statement in London that the participants in the talks "should conclude negotiations within seven days."
The Contact Group is composed of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States.