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Yugoslavia: Chernomyrdin Says Kosovo Solution 'Closer'

Washington/Belgrade; 4 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin says he and U.S. President Bill Clinton are "closer" to a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Kosovo. He made the comment in Washington last night after meeting with Clinton at the White House. Chernomyrdin did not elaborate, except to say that he and Clinton discussed "the circumstances and the conditions" under which NATO would pause its airstrikes on Yugoslavia. In Yugoslavia early today, NATO again bombed the Morina border pass in western Kosovo as it continues its air attacks. The border pass -- first targeted two days ago -- has been used by Yugoslav border troops to resupply observation towers and other positions in the area.

Chernomyrdin said achieving a solution to the Kosovo conflict is a very complicated issue and "the stakes are very high." Chernomyrdin brought Clinton a letter from Russian President Boris Yeltsin which Chernomyrdin said contained new concrete proposals to end the airstrikes. Chernomyrdin, who is due to meet with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan later today in New York, also held talks with U.S. Vice President Al Gore. Yesterday, Annan cautioned against a quick political solution to the crisis.

Earlier last night, Clinton said NATO would be willing to halt its bombing of Yugoslavia if Belgrade makes a fundamental shift in its policy toward Kosovo. Clinton said that in order to stop the bombing, Milosevic must begin withdrawing his troops and accept the presence of international peacekeepers in the province.

Clinton said allied aims concerning Kosovo remain unchanged. He said these were the withdrawal of Serb forces, the return of Kosovo refugees to their homes and the stationing of international peacekeepers in the Serb province with a NATO force in its core. The president said he would welcome Russian and Ukrainian participation in the peacekeeping force.

Clinton also met with U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, who gained the release of three U.S. soldiers held captive by Belgrade. Jackson and Clinton discussed a letter from Milosevic that Jackson faxed to the White House on Sunday. Jackson asked Clinton to call Milosevic to express thanks for releasing the prisoners. Jackson also urged the release of two Yugoslav prisoners of war. Clinton said at a news conference that Washington needs to be convinced that Milosevic's decision to free three American soldiers was part of a general change of policy regarding the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo.

On Capitol Hill, the U.S. Senate postponed a vote on a resolution aimed at allowing President Clinton to use "all necessary force" to end the conflict in Kosovo. The vote was originally scheduled for last night, but was postponed until later today to allow more senators to participate in the first Senate debate on Kosovo since air strikes began.

The resolution would authorize the president to use "all necessary force and other means," in concert with NATO allies, to accomplish NATO's objectives in Yugoslavia.

Senator John McCain of Arizona said the threat of ground troops was needed to add weight to the air campaign and send a message to Milosevic that the U.S. was serious about halting Serb attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The White House said it does not support the resolution, saying Clinton had never asked for the authorization for ground troops. McCain, Senator Joe Biden and five others introduced the resolution.

Meanwhile, Serbian media report that NATO bombs hit the studios of Novi Sad television last night. There were no casualties reported. NATO also reportedly hit a military airport near Belgrade. No attacks were reported after midnight by the Serbian media.

Power remains off in parts of Belgrade today following NATO airstrikes two days ago that NATO said caused Serbia to lose 70 percent of its electricity