Washington, 3 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin is scheduled to meet U.S. President Bill Clinton at the White House today to discuss a diplomatic solution to the Kosovo crisis.
National Security Council spokesman David Leavy told RFE/RL on Sunday the visit will allow Chernomyrdin to brief Clinton and Vice President Al Gore about the status of his talks in Belgrade. Chernomyrdin, a former Russian prime minister, conferred recently with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic about a possible diplomatic settlement to end NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia.
Leavy said Russia was playing a "constructive role" in trying to end the conflict. He said Clinton and Yeltsin talked 15 minutes on the telephone Sunday.
Russian news media quoted a Kremlin press statement as saying Chernomyrdin will deliver a letter to Clinton from Russian President Boris Yeltsin. There was no indication of what Yeltsin's letter contained but the Russian leader has called for intensified diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.
The exact time of Chernomyrdin's meeting with Clinton is not certain yet. Clinton has a full schedule today, including a meeting with the visiting Japanese prime minister, Keizo Obuchi, followed by a state dinner.
At a White House correspondents' dinner during the weekend, Clinton said what is at stake in the Balkans and elsewhere in the world is whether Milosevic's vision of ethnic cleansing or the West's democratic values will define the next century.
Clinton said: "I again ask Mr. Milosevic to let the Kosovars come home with the Serb forces out and an international force in to protect all the people, including the Serb minority, who live in Kosovo. And I ask the American people to remember what it is we are fighting for - a world in which the dignity of humanity counts for more than the differences of humanity. For human differences, when celebrated but contained, can make life a lot more interesting, but, when unleashed as weapons of war, soon make it unbearable."
Through an executive order put into effect Saturday, Clinton imposed a U.S. trade embargo on Serbia. The sanctions forbid U.S. exports of oil, software and other items - except for food and medicine - and coincide with a similar ban on oil products imposed by the European Union.
The executive order also froze all official Yugoslav assets in the United States and banned imports from Serbia. Clinton exempted the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, which has a pro-Western government.
Clinton predicted these sanctions will diminish the Belgrade regime's attempts to keep its war machine going. NATO warplanes already have been targeting Yugoslav oil refineries.
The president also welcomed Yugoslavia's release Sunday of three U.S. soldiers but rejected Milosevic's request for a pause in the air strikes.
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said in a television interview (NBC) that the gesture of goodwill "cannot obliterate or overcome the stench of evil and death that has been inflicted in those killing fields in Kosovo."
Cohen and other U.S. officials suggested Milosevic had simply engaged in a goodwill "stunt" in releasing the American prisoners. It was the U.S. civil rights leader, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who arranged the soldiers' release.
U.S. Senate Majority leader Trent Lott said (on CNN) that "there seems to be some momentum" toward a diplomatic solution on Kosovo. The Republican senator added: "We should seize this moment."
Lott's comments came on the eve of a scheduled debate today by the U.S. Senate on a resolution that urges Clinton to take all necessary measures to wage the war.
Clinton is scheduled to go to Germany Tuesday to visit a U.S. Air Force base, talk to military personnel and see ethnic Albanian refugees being housed in Germany. He also will visit NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss the air campaign.