Washington, 10 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says the signing of a Kosovo military agreement is an important step toward achieving NATO objectives in the Balkans.
Clinton said in a written statement that the accord, agreed to in Macedonia Wednesday night by NATO and Serb military representatives, spells out the details to meet "the essential conditions for peace" in Kosovo.
He said these include the rapid, orderly withdrawal of all Serb forces from Kosovo and the deployment of an international security force, with NATO at its core.
The United States and its allies maintain that in the absence of a peacekeeping force, the hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees would refuse to return to their homes for fear of Serb retribution. The return of the refugees in safety has been a primary objective of the 11-week-old NATO bombing campaign of Yugoslavia.
Clinton said NATO will watch carefully to see whether Serb forces are leaving Kosovo peacefully, in accordance with the agreed timetable. And, he said, NATO has made clear to the leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which has been battling Serb forces in its quest for independence, not to hinder the Serb withdrawal.
White House spokesman P.J. Crowley told RFE/RL that Serb troops have been given 11 days to fully withdraw from Kosovo and that NATO will suspend its bombing once it can verify that the pullback had begun.
NATO originally had wanted a complete withdrawal within seven days, but agreed to a longer timeframe provided Serb forces stopped their offensive operations.
The agreement also said that within 24 hours the Serbs must pull out of the southernmost sector of Kosovo.
The accord said that at the same time the Serbs must suspend military flights and turn off their air defense systems. This would provide NATO aircraft unchallenged access to Kosovo to verify the military situation.
U.S. officials said that within three days the Serbs will have to withdraw all aircraft, radars, surface-to-air missile systems, and anti-aircraft artillery batteries from Kosovo.
Crawley said the next step following the bombing halt would be passing of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Kosovo that would pave the way for the stationing of the international peacekeeping forces in the largely ethnic Albanian-populated province.
Our correspondent at the United Nations in New York reports that the Security Council was awaiting word from NATO that the alliance had stopped bombing Yugoslavia before voting on the resolution.
China, which has veto power on the council, has demanded written confirmation of the bombing halt from NATO Secretary General Javier Solana before a vote.
Both China and Russia have maintained that they will not allow a vote until the NATO bombing ends.
"It's not about verifying the withdrawal as far as I'm concerned, it's about ending the bombing," Sergei Lavrov, Russia's U.N. envoy, told our correspondent at the United Nations.
Other diplomats said China was ready to abstain on the resolution after the West and Russia rejected several amendments proposed by Beijing.
"It is very difficult for us to accept this resolution," said Shen Guafang, China's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.
One defeated amendment would have removed a reference to cooperation with the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, which two weeks ago indicted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four of his top aides. ----------
RFE/RL Special Correspondent Joe Lauria contributed to this report from the United Nations.