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Yugoslavia: Clinton Says Kosovo Crisis Could Improve Ties With Russia

Washington, 24 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia is necessary to create a peaceful, undivided, and free Europe and asserted it may pave the way for greater cooperation with Russia.

Writing in an opinion piece Sunday on the op-ed page of The New York Times, Clinton said the greatest remaining threat to Europe is instability in the Balkans fueled by ethnic and religious hatred.

Clinton reiterated his belief that the two-month-old air campaign is working and will succeed in restoring hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees to their homes in Kosovo.

The president has been criticized by some in the U.S. Congress for limiting military action in the region to air strikes and for not making plans for a ground attack.

In the article, Clinton said he does not rule out other military options but added that the current strategy is on the mark. He said allied aims remain the same: the withdrawal of Serb troops from Kosovo, the return of refugees and the stationing of an international peacekeeping force with a NATO core. Clinton also said the U.S. seeks to strengthen its fundamental interest in a long-term, positive relationship with Russia. He said: "Russia is now helping to work out a way for Belgrade to meet our conditions. Russian troops should participate in the force that will keep the peace in Kosovo, turning a source of tension into an opportunity for cooperation, like our joint effort in Bosnia."

In an interview with a U.S. television network, (on CBS TV) U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright repeated the alliance's position that NATO ground troops would only be used in Yugoslavia to enforce a peace agreement.

Albright said NATO's political body, the North Atlantic Council, would meet Tuesday to discuss plans for moving about 50,000 troops in the region into place to enforce any peace deal.

The secretary of state said: "Those troops are going to go in a permissive way. What we're focused on now is the air campaign and we will keep intensifying the air campaign. We believe it is working."

Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Sunday he does not believe the air campaign has been a success but added that any plan to consider ground troops would be met with resistance in the U.S. Congress.

Said Lott: "At this moment Congress would not approve ground troops."

In Brussels, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea outlined Sunday the results of the alliance's two-month air campaign.

Shea said: "On the military front we have destroyed over 550 pieces of major military equipment including one third of all of the Serb heavy equipment. We have destroyed over one hundred aircraft of the Yugoslav air force which is over half now of the front line combat aircraft. We have destroyed seventy-five percent of the fixed surface-to-air missile sites. Fifty percent of the ammunition storage in Kosovo has been destroyed. Eleven battalion brigade command posts had been hit. The two main routings from Serbia to Kosovo have been cut. The two main road routes from Serbia to Kosovo have also been cut and the remaining minor roads badly damaged. All bridges over the Danube with the exception of Belgrade have been cut. Commander control facilities have been progressively degraded. All of Serbia's oil refineries have been crippled, eliminating Serbia's capability to refine crude oil."

Shea then turned to the alliance's humanitarian efforts.

He said: "NATO forces have helped to care for almost half a million refugees in Albania. We have helped to care for a quarter of a million refugees in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia we have built six major refugee camps, seven more are in the course of construction."

On the political front, Shea said this.

"On the political front for the first time in NATO's history, the alliance has been able to conduct a full scale combat operation beginning with 350 aircraft and moving now to 852. This alliance of 19 countries has been successful over two months in pursuing and intensifying its air campaign... We have stayed united even during difficult times. And that unity is still there today as strong as it was at the beginning."

But a top Yugoslav diplomat said Sunday his country won't be forced to the negotiation table by what he called NATO threats.

Yugoslav charge d'affaires to the United Nations, Vladislav Jovanovic, told a U.S. television network (CNN) that an ultimatum has led the alliance to a war against his country and it cannot lead to the resolution of the conflict. And he accused NATO of waging what he called a "poisonous war of propaganda" against Belgrade.

Jovanovic also commented about U.S. statements that NATO is winning the war against Yugoslavia.

As Jovanovic put it, "Nobody can speak in terms of losing or winning because peace, security and prosperity in Europe are on the losing side."