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Yugoslavia: U.S. Says No Talks On Exit Strategy For Milosevic

The U.S. State Department has denied the holding of any talks that would allow Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to step down from power, in exchange for guarantees of his safety and his personal fortune. RFE/RL's State Department Correspondent Lisa McAdams reports.

Washington, 20 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher quickly put to rest reports on Monday that the United States was exploring with some of its NATO allies and Russia a possible exit strategy for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The alleged strategy, according to senior American and NATO officials quoted in a front-page New York Times article Sunday, would allow Milosevic to leave office with guarantees for his safety and personal savings. Asked to confirm or deny the existence of such talks -- formal or informal -- Boucher replied:

"There is no truth to the allegations that we are exploring or seeking some kind of deal by which Milosevic will be allowed to leave office with guarantees."

Boucher also rejected reports that the U.S. had received any such proposals from Belgrade, nor, he said, would the U.S. be interested. Boucher stressed that the U.S. policy on the regime of Milosevic, an indicted war criminal, remains simple and unchanged. He said the U.S. wants to see Milosevic, "Out of power, out of the country and in The Hague."

"The only place Milosevic should even consider traveling to is The Hague. There has been no change in U.S. policy that Milosevic must go to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes."

In Moscow, Russia's RIA news agency quoted Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov as saying the report resulted from "a fertile imagination."

In Brussels, NATO sources were reported to be "mystified" by the report and unable to comment. And it was much the same story from foreign policy sources at the European Union.

But spokesman Paul Risley at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yuogslavia (ICTY) said tribunal officials would be unlikely to block a deal removing Milosevic from power. But Risley added the ICTY would not approve immunity.

The administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton has long made the ouster of Milosevic one of its key foreign policy goals, and regards Milosevic as the central obstacle to democratization and stability in Southeastern Europe.

Thomas Carothers is a specialist on democratization and the Balkans with the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He told our correspondent that he was not surprised to read the article and its claims, nor with the subsequent denials in U.S. and European capitals.

"Still, it makes you wonder," Carothers said.

Carothers said the claims also bring forth some tough questions as regards policy toward dealing with indicted war criminals in general, whether they be in Somalia, Iraq, or Serbia.

"More generally, it brings up the hard issue of the question of tension between (taking) a principled stand on war crimes violations, versus a more pragmatic stand on what's the best route to get him (Milosevic) out. And all the arguments over an international criminal court have raised this issue of is this going to make it harder to get dictators out of power? And here we have in our hands a really good example of that issue?"

Carothers said it was his view that the U.S. may indeed have to look at such an exit strategy for Milosevic somewhere down the line. But for today, at least, U.S. and senior European officials are unanimous in their denials that any such discussions are now, or ever were, on the horizon.