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Yugoslavia: Albright Explains NATO Bombing Threat

Washington, 22 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says NATO will not carry out its threat to bomb Serb targets if neither side accepts a political settlement at the Kosovo peace talks.

Talks outside Paris between Serb and ethnic Albanian negotiators are set to resume today. A new deadline is set for Tuesday to work out an accord.

Albright made the comments Sunday in a U.S. television interview (on CNN). She is in France trying to help the parties work out a settlement.

Albright said Serbian negotiators are balking over the critical question of whether NATO peacekeepers would enforce the settlement. And she said the Kosovar Albanians must still be persuaded to accept autonomy -- something less than the full independence they have been seeking.

Albright said: "We have never said that there would be bombing of the Serbs if there was a 'no' answer also from the Albanians. Let me describe what the scenarios are. The best outcome is if there is a yes on both parts of the agreement by both sides, which would then lead to a NATO implementation force. If one side craters -- let's say the Serbs crater these talks -- then the result of that would be NATO bombing. If the Kosovars crater the talks, then the result of that would be is that we would not support them anymore, and would use our efforts to stop them from getting outside assistance."

The secretary of state added: "If neither side says yes, then we have this particular situation that exists at this moment, which does not call for the use of force against the Serbs, but calls for additional action to try to get them to negotiate, in order to try to get a yes answer from both. So I think there's been a misunderstanding about the fact that there is automatic bombing if the Serbs say no and the Kosovars also say no."

Albright reiterated that NATO warplanes would strike if the Serbs alone are responsible for torpedoing the talks.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has been opposed to the idea of stationing NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo, a Serbian province largely populated by ethnic Albanians. Serbia and tiny Montenegro make up the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Albright said NATO forces must patrol Kosovo for peace to have a chance.

As for ethnic Albanians' drive for independence, Albright said the U.S. is not in favor of it.

The secretary said during the proposed three-year interim settlement, Kosovo would have local elections, local police, schools that teach the Albanian language as well as other institutions. She said Kosovo "would have a high degree of autonomy" that has not been seen before. She said this arrangement would give Kosovar Albanians a normal life, a chance to pursue their cultural heritage and govern themselves.

The original deadline to work out an agreement had been set to expire last Saturday but was extended.

Albright said: "The reason that this deadline was extended was because the parties asked for an extension -- specifically the Kosovar Albanians -- because, as I said, these are life-and-death decisions, and very complicated for people that have not spent their lives being constitutional lawyers. And so we felt that it was legitimate to extend the deadline."

She added: "It is my hope and desire that they hold to the Tuesday deadline. And I'm hoping that they take that as a sign that they must finish their work."