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Yugoslavia: Clinton Says Bombing Continues Until Serbs Leave Kosovo

Washington, D.C. 9 June 1999 (FRE/RL) - U.S. President Bill Clinton says NATO will not stop its bombing of Yugoslavia until Serb troops begin withdrawing from Kosovo -- a condition that has frustrated obtaining Russian and Chinese support for a UN Security Council resolution to end the crisis.

As diplomatic efforts continued to work out a settlement, Clinton reiterated his position Tuesday during a visit to the White House by Hungarian President Arpad Goncz. Hungary, a neighbor of Yugoslavia, joined NATO earlier this year and has been providing assistance to the alliance in its air campaign.

Clinton said: "For 77 days, we have been working to achieve a simple set of objectives there: the return of refugees with safety and self-government; the withdrawal of all Serbian forces; (and) the deployment of an international security force with NATO at its core. ...The key now, as it has been from the beginning of this process is implementation. A verifiable withdrawal of Serb forces will allow us to suspend the bombing and go forward with the plan."

In a concession to Moscow, Clinton said Russian troops would not have to come under NATO command if they participate in the peacekeeping force. But, he said, there must be "an acceptable level of coordination" between the NATO-led troops and Russian forces in the largely ethnic Albanian-populated province.

Russia has said it might contribute 10,000 troops but insisted they will not fall under NATO command.

Ukraine also has indicated a willingness to supply peacekeepers.

Clinton said the envisioned Russian participation in Kosovo would be similar to its role in working with NATO troops in Bosnia.

Last week Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and the Serb Parliament accepted a peace plan agreed to by the seven leading industrial nations and Russia. The Group of Seven and Russia also agreed to the wording of a United Nations Security Council draft resolution that Clinton said will bring peace with security for the people of Kosovo.

The Security Council debated the resolution behind closed doors on Tuesday but did not immediately schedule a vote on it. Delegates from China and Russia voiced concern, saying they cannot endorse it until NATO stops its bombing campaign. Both nations are permanent council members and can exercise their veto powers.

Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin talked for 15 minutes on the telephone Tuesday to discuss Kosovo. It was their second such conversation in as many days. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart described the talks as "very good" and "positive." He said Clinton thanked Yeltsin for his efforts extended through Russian Balkan envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin to help resolve the conflict.

Lockhart said that while Yeltsin again has made it clear that Russia is opposed to the continuation of the bombing, both leaders favored moving forward with implementing the peace plan.

The United States is sending Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to Moscow for further discussions on Kosovo. He is scheduled to arrive in the Russian capital on Thursday.

Asked about China's position on Kosovo, Lockhart said Washington believes Beijing will not veto a council resolution.

He said: "It's our expectation that China will not stand in the way of a peaceful solution to the conflict in Kosovo. They have made quite clear their views and their efforts to see the air campaign come to an end and reversing the ethnic cleansing, so it is our view that they will not stand in the way of this."

Russia from the beginning opposed NATO's bombing campaign, now well into its third month. Russia feels kinship to Serbia, a fellow Slav country, and has argued that a sovereign nation cannot be attacked without Security Council approval. China also has been against the bombing that further complicated relations when a U.S. warplane accidentally struck the Chinese embgassy in Belgrade.

In a related development, Clinton again ruled out using ground troops in combat in Kosovo, saying U.S. troops would only enter the province after a peace agreement is put into effect.

In a letter to Congress, Clinton said that U.S. forces "will not enter Kosovo unless it is clear that Belgrade has adopted NATO's conditions and is withdrawing its forces."

He said the U.S. intends to contribute 7,000 troops to the proposed 50,000-strong NATO-led peacekeeping force that will enter Kosovo. They would help an estimated 750,000 refugees return from Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro.