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U.S. now appears to be withdrawing from involvement in Bosnian conflict


WASHINGTON -- Having failed to get allied support for stronger action in Bosnia, the United States is showing signs that it is pulling back from the bloody Balkans conflict and leaving the Europeans and Russia to consider the next moves to end the war.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher told reporters yesterday that, in the wake of the Bosnian Serb referendum this weekend rejecting an international peace plan, he intended to "have a new round of conversation with our allies."

Only 10 days ago, President Clinton held out the hope that Mr. Christopher had won the support of key European allies and Russia in threatening military action, including air strikes, to persuade them to sign the peace plan.

Such support did not materialize and Mr. Christopher said yesterday: "There have been no decisions taken with respect to another major effort with our allies. It seems the allies have particular ideas of their own that they want to pursue at the present time. We'll be discussing with them their approaches to this matter, which seems to get more difficult every time you look at it."

Mr. Christopher told the House Foreign Affairs Committee today that the United States would not act alone in the Bosnian crisis but would continue to press for lifting the arms embargo against Bosnian Muslims.

"This is a multilateral problem and it must have a multilateral response," Mr. Christopher said.

Meanwhile, according to a lawmaker who has received private briefings from top intelligence officials, the CIA is now convinced that without forceful allied intervention on behalf of Bosnia, "they see the emergence of a greater Serbia and a greater Croatia and a sharply reduced Muslim Bosnia as a kind of United Nations protectorate."

The pessimism and resignation within the administration was underscored by a series of actions in which the United States seemed to be pulling further away from direct involvement in the conflict. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher denounced as having "no legitimacy" the Bosnian Serb referendum against the peace plan mediated by U.N. negotiator Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen.

But when he was asked whether the Vance-Owen peace plan was dead, as Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has claimed, Mr. Boucher said, "Our view of this is it's not for us to make that determination. It's really for the parties . . . ."

However, he also announced that the United States would not attend a tentatively scheduled foreign ministers' meeting Friday on U.N. peacekeeping, at which Bosnia was to be a primary topic, because the United States had not passed its budget and was not ready to discuss peacekeeping.

In addition, Mr. Boucher said, the United States has no plans to send Americans as observers to monitor the borders between Bosnia and Serbia. Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic has pledged to cut off aid to the Bosnian Serbs for their refusal to approve an international peace plan.

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