Washington, 3 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The top intelligence experts in the United States say they fear the ethnic violence in Kosovo could turn into an all-out war in the Balkans in spring if a political solution to the crisis is not found.
The assessment came from U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet and was endorsed by U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Patrick Hughes.
Tenet also said he is worried about what he says is a deteriorating situation in Russia that makes its future course unpredictable. In addition, he said he has seen no evidence yet that Iran has given up its support for international terrorism.
Tenet and Hughes gave their candid evaluation of threats to U.S. national security in a rare public hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Congressional committees normally meet behind closed doors with officials from the government's intelligence services.
The CIA director said he agreed with Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Virginia), who said the ethnic violence in Kosovo between Serb authorities and insurgent ethnic Albanians is the most pressing international concern for the United States.
Said Tenet, "With regard to Kosovo and the Balkans, you are correct -- it is the most acute problem. The Kosovo Liberation Army will emerge from the winter better trained, better equipped and better led than last year. With neither Belgrade nor the Kosovar Albanians willing to compromise at this point, spring will bring harder fighting and heavier casualties unless the international community succeeds in imposing a political settlement. The fragility of any political solution is likely to generate pressure for the international community to deploy ground forces, to enforce implementation and to deter new fighting."
Tenet and Hughes said a NATO military force will be essential to establishing peace in Kosovo. They said the Serbian authorities and the militant Kosovar Albanians are on the verge of even greater violence with the coming of spring.
Tenet said, "Mr. Chairman, we believe that we are on the verge of a dramatic deterioration of the Kosovo crisis as the limitations of winter weather pass. The cease-fire negotiated last October is near collapse. The number of attacks by both sides is increasing as are the casualties. Both sides are now preparing for much heavier fighting in the spring. The KLA has used the cease-fire to improve its training and command and control, as well as to acquire more and better weapons. As a result, the KLA is a more formidable force than the Serbs faced last summer. We estimate that there are several thousand KLA regulars, augmented by thousands more irregulars or home guards. Moreover, funds pouring into the KLA coffers from the Albanian diaspora have increased sharply following the massacre at Racek."
NATO has warned Serbia to expect air strikes if it does not send a delegation to peace talks in Paris this weekend with representatives of the Kosovar Albanians. Senator Warner said he did not believe that air strikes alone would settle the violence in the province and he said he believes that some allied ground force will have to enforce a peace accord. Tenet agreed.
He said: "Analytically, our judgment is a NATO force would be an indispensable component in trying to bring some solution." But he added that the dangers facing U.S. and allied forces would be even greater than those facing the allied troops now in Bosnia.
Tenet said, "We assess that if the fighting escalates in the spring as we expect it will be bloodier than last year's. Belgrade will seek to crush the KLA once and for all, while the insurgents will have the capability to inflict heavier casualties on Serb forces. Both sides will likely step up attacks on civilians. There is already evidence that KLA may be retaliating for the slaying of the Albanian civilians at the hands of Serb security forces by attacking Serb civilians. The recent attacks against Serb bars and restaurants in Pristina and Pec could be the beginning of a pattern of tit-for-tat retaliation that will grow more severe as fighting intensifies. Heavier fighting will also result in another humanitarian crisis, possibly greater in scale than last year's which created 250,000 refugees and internally displaced persons, along with hundreds of buildings destroyed and homes."
Lt. Gen. Hughes said that, "if the warring parties are not in some way separated and controlled we all should expect increased conflict in the coming spring and summer months, and continued strife throughout the region of the Balkans that could indeed broaden out of the current crisis environment in Kosovo into the adjoining areas of Montenegro, more crisis and more conflict in Albania, and the potential for similar kind of events in Macedonia."
Tenet said a second major concern is the situation in Russia. He said he believes its future course is uncertain, largely because of the chaotic condition of the economy.
Said Tenet, "Just one year ago Russia had its problems, but it had a basic sense of direction, and seemed to be moving forward, however fitfully. Now, however, Prime Minister (Yevgeniy) Primakov is struggling with mammoth problems. To his credit, he has built a good relationship with the legislature and gained passage of some long overdue legislation. But the nation is heading into a political transition, facing difficult economic choices and possibly entering a period in which it debates its future political direction."
Tenet said the economic problems are compounded by "continuing instances of lawlessness and a growing public sentiment for a stronger hand at the helm," of government.
He said, "Politically Russia is increasingly unpredictable, and the worsening economic situation affects all aspects of the Russian scene as the desperate search for revenue streams is exacerbating a number of very serious problems. For example, it has magnified the proliferation threat across the board as growing financial pressures raise incentives to transfer sensitive technologies, especially to Iran."
On the issue of Iran, Tenet said the CIA has "yet to see any significant reduction in Iran's support for terrorism." He said that while President Mohammad Khatemi may be moderate, "hard-liners such as the supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Hoseini -Khamenei) continue to view terrorism as a legitimate tool of Iranian policy, and they still control the institutions that can implement it."