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NATO: Many Remain Skeptical Of Clinton Balkan Policy

Washington, 25 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Senate has given its support to President Bill Clinton's Kosovo policy, but many senators say that support came only after Clinton made a personal appeal before a vote on a resolution backing the president.

By a vote of 58-41, the 100-member Senate late Tuesday approved a resolution authorizing Clinton to conduct military air operations against the Yugoslav Federation to force it to stop its military campaign against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province and to compel Belgrade to sign a peace agreement with the Kosovars.

The resolution does not have the force of law, but even the symbolic support of the Senate was crucial for the White House.

Even after the endorsement, there were still misgivings about, and outright opposition to the policy of involving the U.S. in the Balkan conflict.

Senator Robert Kerry of Nebraska, like Clinton a member of the Democratic Party, said his support for the NATO alliance air strikes is limited. He said that, "allowing the bombing to go forward is not a general authorization for a war in Kosovo."

Senator Donald Nickles, a Republican from Oklahoma, was blunt about his view. He said: "I strenuously object. I don't think you can bomb somebody into signing a peace agreement. I think that's just a false premise."

The Republicans control the Senate by a margin of 55 to 45. Thirty-eight Republicans and three Democrats -- Senators Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Ernest Hollings of South Carolina -- opposed the resolution. Supporting the measure were the remaining 42 of the Senate's 45 Democrats and 16 Republicans. One senator, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, did not vote.

The Senate had been scheduled to take a major procedural vote on legislation by Republican leaders designed to keep Clinton from using U.S. military power in the Balkans crisis without support from Congress first.

But after Clinton met with congressional leaders at the White House, Senate leaders changed course and expressed support for airstrikes. Republican John McCain of Arizona said that with a bombing campaign imminent, it was no time to undermine Clinton's role as commander in chief.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican of Texas who was sponsoring the proposal to withhold funds from the Defense Department for Kosovo operations, said many senators were torn between opposition to Kosovo involvement and the need to support U.S. military personnel. In the end, she said the need to support the military won out. She also cautioned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic against mistaking Senate debate as a lack of resolve.

"Many Senators remain fearful that the air campaign could turn into another Bosnia - or worse. Some 6,700 American troops remain in neighboring Bosnia as part of a NATO peacekeeping force established in 1995, even though Clinton initially said the troops would be home in a year."

Senator Nickles said of the possible involvement in Kosovo:

"I don't really want U.S. troops stationed there, but I think that is the goal of the international community, is to have an international peace-keeping force there, and I'm afraid they're going to be there for a long time. They've been fighting in the Balkans for centuries, for hundreds of years, and my guess is we're getting ready to be engaged in it and we'll be there for a long time, as well."