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NATO: Alliance Ends Summit With Pledge To Protect Frontline Balkan States

Washington, 26 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- NATO leaders have ended their 50th anniversary summit in a show of solidarity on the Balkan conflict, pledging military protection and economic help to Yugoslavia's neighbors for siding with the alliance about Kosovo.

U.S. President Bill Clinton said at the closing of the summit that the alliance remains more determined than ever to reverse Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing policies. He said the stability of the Balkan region and of Europe depended on this.

Clinton and his 18 NATO counterparts conferred Sunday with officials from the seven frontline states neighboring Yugoslavia to discuss their security concerns and the ethnic Albanian refugee crisis.

Clinton said: "The nations of the region have risked and even faced armed confrontation with Serbia by facilitating and supporting our campaign to end the bloodshed in Kosovo."

The president added: "NATO made its position very clear: we said unambiguously, if Belgrade challenges its neighbors as a result of the presence of NATO, we will respond."

NATO Secretary General Javier Solana summed up the Yugoslav situation at a closing news conference:

Solana said: "NATO has been in the forefront of the international effort to solve the refugee crisis. As you know, our forces in both Macedonia and Albania have built refugee camps, transported thousands of tons of food and medical supplies, and provided transport to evacuate refugees to safer areas. I think we have demonstrated that we are standing by these countries and will not allow them to be destabilized as a result of Milosevic's ethnic cleansing."

Solana said: "Our partners all share the view that the violence resulting from ethnic strife could not be tolerated in the Euro-Atlantic area now as we approach the 21st century. They all share our resolve and our determination to put a stop to that violent conflict and to ensure that justice is upheld."

NATO says Albania and Macedonia have been particularly hard hit by the influx of refugees. The two countries have taken in nearly half a million Kosovo Albanian refugees fleeing from Yugoslav forces. The other neighboring countries are Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia.

Once the conflict is over, NATO officials say there will be a significant reconstruction aid package to the Balkans.

Solana said: "The community is prepared to send -- to launch a very important plan for restabilization of the region. That plan, as you know, will not be only security, that will be the primary responsibility of NATO, but it will have other components, like the economic component, trade and democratic construction in those societies. This is going to be launched in the coming days in a coordinated manner among the different organizations that may have responsibilities. "

Meanwhile, Clinton urged Russian President Boris Yeltsin in a telephone conversation Sunday to press Milosevic to accept a peaceful solution to the Kosovo crisis. Clinton said Milosevic must pull his forces from the province, permit the return of all refugees, the stationing of international peacekeepers and the restoration of autonomy to the Kosovars.

The alliance agreed to impose an oil embargo on Yugoslavia, including stopping and searching ships suspected of carrying fuels there.

U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said Washington expects the Russians to comply with the embargo. He said nothing in Clinton's conversation with Yeltsin indicated to the contrary.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that the alliance's decisions applied only to NATO's 19 members and that Russia will abide only by international law.

In another development, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott was flying to Moscow for talks on Russian mediation on Yugoslavia.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Sunday the visit will be useful following Russian mediator Viktor Chernomyrdin's recent journey to Belgrade in trying to bring an end to the conflict.

Albright also said Washington regrets that the Russians decided not to be represented at the NATO summit.

Despite repeated public proclamation of unity, some cracks appeared in NATO's political leadership.

French President Jacques Chirac reportedly raised objections to NATO's plan to stop and search neutral ships in international waters to enforce the oil embargo, saying such an action can be seen as an act of war.

And German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said "military interventions must be legalized by a U.N. mandate as a rule."

But U.S. officials insisted that the alliance was rock solid in its unity on the core issue of defeating ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia and securing the return of all refugees.