|AT AN IMPASSE|
February 22, 1999
While peace talks between Yugoslavia and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian delegation stalled, a new round of fighting erupted in Kosovo. Jim Lehrer and guests discuss the prospects for peace in the region.
JIM LEHRER: Begin tonight with developments on two foreign stories. The first is the situation in and about Kosovo. Susan Woodward is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has written extensively about the Balkans. James Hooper is a former foreign service officer, now executive director of the Balkan Action Council, a group formed last year to inform the public about the Balkans. Susan Woodward, more fighting on the ground today. No deal at the peace talks. What's your assessment of where matters stand?
|Where matters stand.|
SUSAN WOODWARD, Brookings Institution: I think we're very close to the United States government and the West European powers of having a failed strategy. Everything they were hoping for, which was basically to get an interim agreement under terms of signatures of a peace plan so that you could send in troops under consent principles, mainly that they wouldn't be at risk. And now we're getting to the point where real bargaining has begun -- the take it or leave it idea of here's a plan and we'll worry about having some decision in three years has failed. That doesn't mean to say that the talks will stop, but I think we're now at the point where the outsiders have to start offering more of a package deal, worrying about the negotiating details. And so it doesn't look good at the moment.
JIM LEHRER: And, Mr. Hooper, the whole deal was based on the fact the ethnic Albanians would agree to just about anything that the contact group, the U.S. and the others put on the table. And the problem would be the Serbs. But there's be an oh-oh, here, is that right?
JAMES HOOPER, Balkan Action Council: That's right. The reason the talks have been extended for three days -- and we have a deadline tomorrow of 3:00 P.M. -- is that the Kosovo Albanians requested additional time. They wanted clarifications on some of the issues. For one thing, they had been led to expect that there would be NATO representatives there that they could talk with, that they could sort out some of their questions about. You have to keep in mind that this agreement allows over 5,000 Serbian police and military forces to remain in Kosovo, and it also requires the Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA, to disarm and disband. The KLA certainly wants to make sure that NATO is prepared to do its job, that the United States and NATO are prepared to follow through on their bombing threats.
JIM LEHRER: And the KLA disarming is the real -- is the real fly in the ointment for the Albanians, is it not, the Kosovars?
JAMES HOOPER: That's right. And I think this has been a major misjudgment of the policymakers who in setting up the conference they have yet to find a way for the KLA to remain intact in some form, reduced and circumscribed. And I think if they were to find that, that would be the breakthrough that would be needed.
JIM LEHRER: And that's about what, 15,000 armed troops, is that the estimate?
JAMES HOOPER: The KLA is about 10,000 to 15,000. I think if they were, for example, allowed to go down to perhaps five to fifteen hundred, which is -- or maybe even two thousand, twenty-five hundred -- no higher than that -- that is, after all, what the number of army troops that Belgrade is allowed to keep in Kosovo --
JIM LEHRER: That's the Serbs?
JAMES HOOPER: -- that that would be acceptable. Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Susan Woodward, what's the problem for the Serbs' point of view? What is their hang-up?
SUSAN WOODWARD: The hangup for the Serbs is really one that is a warning for lots of other cases, because Kosovo of course is recognized as a part of Serbia and of Yugoslavia, the country of which Serbia shares with Montenegro, this federation. And for them, they want all assurances that the outside powers will act in a way to recognize that this is still their country. I think they all know that they've lost Kosovo. Some of this is matter of face saving and how President Milosevic will be able in the end to sell it to a public -
JIM LEHRER: He's president of Yugoslavia.
SUSAN WOODWARD: He's president of Yugoslavia and still treated unlike Milutinovic, who is at the talks at Rambouillet as president of Serbia. Milosevic is still treated by everyone on the outside as the real broker and the person who is able to sell an agreement or not. And so what they're really looking for is a package that enables him to sell this plan to his public, but also with the cover that this is really still a part of Yugoslavia.
JIM LEHRER: But doesn't he also have a real problem with these outside peacekeeping troops, U.S. troops and others coming in there, if there is, in fact, a deal?
|The possible role of NATO troops.|
SUSAN WOODWARD: Well, he says that he doesn't want NATO troops, and there's a very good reason for this, is that NATO has particularly in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also in the attempt to use a threat to back up diplomacy as Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State, has been saying so strongly, to use the threat mechanism of air strikes and so forth on Serbia to get them to the bargaining table to accept this. So NATO is perceived by the Serbian population as a real enemy of Serbia. But I think myself that this is a part of a bargaining game, that if President Milosevic could be given assurances that the economic sanctions that are on the country would be lifted in short order if he accepted a deal, that they might even be on the first stage of admission to partnership for peace, this interim relationship with NATO itself. In other words, that Yugoslavia was brought back into international and European organizations, that he wouldn't have any trouble, because then they would be in an assisting role rather than an enemy imposing role.
JIM LEHRER: And the thing that's causing this, in other words, the threat of bomb strikes, air strikes is paying off in terms of the Serb side, correct?
SUSAN WOODWARD: Well, in my view just the opposite. I think the threat of bombing, because President Milosevic himself knows that we will never bomb, that there's too much disagreement among the NATO powers, there's too much opposition from Russia, there could even be problems for China if this ended up being a United Nations mandate, which it probably will in the ends if troops do go on the ground, there's too much opposition. So Milosevic himself I think knows fully well that we won't threaten bombing. And, in fact, what it's therefore doing is creating a political problem with him at home.
JIM LEHRER: But in a public sense, Mr. Hooper, it appears at least that the US and the NATO folks might have the idea, okay, we've threatened bomb strikes, air strikes, and the Serbs are going to agree to a deal as a result of that is fallacious?
JAMES HOOPER: I think the real problem here is that Mr. Milosevic does not believe that we mean business. He's heard us threaten bombing so many times in the past, several times last year alone over Kosovo and then not follow through, that he just doesn't believe it. The Kosovo Albanians also - they need reassurance. They're not certain if NATO is going to carry out these threats. Also, let me add that I think it would be a mistake to give Mr. Milosevic a bag full of goodies for signing an agreement here if, in fact, he were prepared to sign an agreement. He created the problem in Kosovo. Why should we lift sanctions on him? Today for example the UN War Crimes -- the president of the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague called for stronger language on the War Crimes Tribunal in the agreement. So I think what we need to be doing on Mr. Milosevic is actually getting tougher rather than easing off.
JIM LEHRER: Now, at the risk of oversimplifying things here, but for those who don't follow this thing as closely as the two of you, are we not now confronted with a situation where we -- where NATO has threatened air strikes if the Serbs don't agree to this but there was no threat against the ethnic Albanians. The assumption is that they were going to go along. Now is there a threat to bomb them, too, if this deal doesn't come through? In other words, who gets bombed if there's no deal -- both sides or nobody?
JAMES HOOPER: The first step is the Albanians have to say yes -
JIM LEHRER: They have not done that.
JAMES HOOPER: And they have not done that.
JIM LEHRER: They expected to do that, and they did not.
JAMES HOOPER: Exactly. They're not going to be bombed if they say no. But if they do say no, we will have a policy nightmare. You will have a situation -
JIM LEHRER: You can't bomb the Serbs, can we?
JAMES HOOPER: It would be very difficult to bomb the Serbs in those circumstances, and that's the nightmare that we will end up with no policy. This would be disaster, I think. And I believe that the Kosovo Albanians are going to ultimately sign up for this agreement. But it would be a disaster if they didn't; we would have no policy left. And I'm not sure what we would do, because Mr. Milosevic's forces are already upping the ante in Kosovo. The tempo of the fighting has picked up. There was a -- one the international monitors who was detained at gun point today. Two of them were roughed yesterday.
JIM LEHRER: There was fighting today.
JAMES HOOPER: That's right. I think that the Serbs are preparing for another offensive. If the Albanians do not say yes, we are then going to have the worst of all possible worlds out there. And so I believe they will. I think they know that.
JIM LEHRER: The wire stories Tuesday appear that the KLA was also preparing for more combat, as well, so this thing doesn't look terrific tonight.
SUSAN WOODWARD: No, it doesn't. And that's why I say this use of threat of air strikes as a way of getting people to accept something that is truly in their view against their interest on both sides shows that the strategy has failed, that there really is no policy. And this I really go agree with, Jim. But I think we're already there. Now we have to go to the next step and think about incentives and inducements for both sides to see this interim agreement in their interest. That's going to require something of us. And I think that's much harder to do.
JIM LEHRER: And particularly between now and 3 o'clock tomorrow afternoon.
SUSAN WOODWARD: That's right.
JAMES HOOPER: Jim, and I want to make the point that I think the only way to bring Mr. Milosevic and the Serbs to accept an agreement is by threatening force and perhaps using force. Again, it's not just the credible threat of force. He operates in the gap between the threat and the use of force. We need to make sure that he understands we mean business.
JIM LEHRER: We'll see what happens. Thank you both very much.