The United States yesterday agreed to support a proposal by the European Union to ease sanctions against Yugoslavia in the hope of promoting the Serbian opposition. But as RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports, Washington is making any loosening of sanctions contingent upon Brussels expanding its list of Yugoslavs barred from entering EU countries.
Prague, 10 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A deal announced in Washington last night by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook provides for lifting an international ban on flights to Yugoslavia for six months.
Cook made it clear that the move was in response to requests by the Yugoslav opposition.
"In response to their approaches, we, like the United States, are willing to look at the suspension of the flight ban for a period of six months, [so that] the opposition can demonstrate to the people that we are willing to listen to those who represent the forces of democracy and future within Serbia."
The Yugoslav regime is considering calling parliamentary elections, possibly as early as April. Serbia's traditionally fractured democratic opposition is proceeding with plans to launch a new series of joint rallies intended to broaden support for ousting Milosevic.
Albright praised the opposition for showing a more united front. But she also set conditions for easing the ban on air travel. She said the move is intended to help the opposition woo voters while intensifying those sanctions which most effectively target the Milosevic regime.
"In recognition of this progress toward a united democratic opposition, and in response to advice from Yugoslavia's democratic leadership, we are prepared to consider support for a temporary suspension of the ban on flights by European carriers into Yugoslavia, as requested by the opposition, but only if this step is taken along with other measures to strengthen, expand, and focus those sanctions which most effectively target the regime and its supporters."
Albright's conditions require the EU to expand its list of Yugoslav citizens barred from entering member states. That list, currently numbering some 600 people, mainly political and military officials, would be expanded to include more business people close to Milosevic. The U.S. conditions would also require the EU to increase its vigilance in ensuring compliance with international restrictions on doing business with Serbia.
The UN Security Council lifted trade sanctions against Yugoslavia in October 1996, but the West subsequently reimposed sanctions, including a ban on arms sales, in an effort to force Belgrade to stop harassing Kosovar Albanians. Those sanctions failed to halt the violence, and when NATO launched airstrikes against Yugoslavia, the sanctions were expanded to include an oil embargo and a freeze on Yugoslav assets in the United States.
The oil embargo remains in effect. But the EU has made exceptions, supplying heating oil to opposition-run towns in southern Serbia, including Nis and Pirot.
The opposition in Belgrade has welcomed the likely easing of the sanctions on air travel.
The coordinator of the Alliance for Change, Vladan Batic, says Western diplomats had hinted to him recently that an announcement was imminent.
"This represents a stimulus and hope for the citizens of Serbia, and creates a belief in a better tomorrow in Serbia and a democratic alternative represented by the democratic opposition of Serbia. This decision will have a positive and above all a psychological effect, in addition to an important economic effect."
Similarly, the chairman of the Democratic Party, Zoran Djindjic, in a television interview last night just minutes before Albright and Cook made their announcement, said an easing of restrictions on air travel and oil deliveries was expected. But he said other sanctions would remain in force until there is a change of power in Serbia.
The state-run news agency Tanjug noted that most sanctions still remain in place, and that some will be tightened. It says the bans represent "a dangerous weapon that the Clinton administration does not want to give up."
EU foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels Monday to ease the ban on commercial flights to Yugoslavia. A ban on flights by Yugoslav Airlines (JAT) to Western Europe will remain in effect. Some EU member states, including Germany, are likely to push for a further easing of the fuel embargo.
Once the EU eases sanctions, it will up to the Serbian democratic opposition to convince the public that a vote for the opposition is a vote for a return to normalcy.