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U.S. offers air power for Bosnia Latest goal: protect U.N. troops


WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration is now telling the Europeans that it is willing to use air power to protect U.N. peacekeeping forces guarding safe areas for Muslims in Bosnia. But President Clinton reiterated his opposition to any American soldiers participating on the ground while the war continues, even as part of the peacekeeping effort.

Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher informed the Europeans of the shift in the American position in meetings with Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev of Russia yesterday and with Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd of Britain yesterday, senior European officials said. The shift is also reflected in a draft statement of principles, written by Mr. Christopher as a basis for an anticipated joint announcement by the allies, the officials said.

"The Americans have said in the framework of their declaration that they are ready to provide air cover and rescue for the U.N. forces," one senior French official said. "This is new for us."

Until now, the official U.S. position has been that the United States would be willing to use air power only as part of an American plan to send arms to the Bosnian Muslims, a proposal that was rejected by the Europeans.

Only two weeks ago, Mr. Christopher rejected the idea of havens, a proposal developed by the French, arguing that they would put the Muslims into ethnic ghettos that would be impossible to protect from the air if the Serbs attacked. If the United States does provide air cover, however, it would only be to protect European troops functioning as U.N. peacekeepers, not to protect the havens themselves, said officials familiar with the proposal.

Mr. Christopher confirmed yesterday that the haven idea was "part of the discussion" with the allies, but declined to provide further details.

In the aftermath of his failure to convince the Europeans to embrace the U.S. proposal to arm the Bosnian Muslims, Mr. Christopher has launched a diplomatic campaign with his European counterparts to forge agreement on a specific package of measures to contain the fighting.

As part of the initiative, Mr. Christopher has invited the foreign ministers of France, Russia, Britain and Spain to Washington today to try to hammer out agreement on the U.S. statement of principles, which could then be used as the basis for a series of resolutions at the U.N. next week.

In addition to the creation of protected safe areas for the Muslims, other measures contained in the draft statement of principles, which remains confidential, include: the deployment of U.N. troops on the Bosnian-Serbian border to monitor Belgrade's blockade against the Bosnian Serbs; the creation of a U.N. war crimes tribunal to prosecute people guilty of "ethnic cleansing" and other war crimes; the reinforcing of a U.N. force in nearby Macedonia, perhaps with U.S. soldiers; and an increase in the number of international monitors in the Serbian province of Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority.

But in a sign of opposition even to those limited steps, the president of Yugoslavia, Dobrica Cosic, said through a spokesman in Belgrade Friday that he rejected a plan for U.N. supervision of the country's border with Bosnia, saying that the world must trust Belgrade to keep its promise to cut all military aid to Bosnian Serbs.

In dejected and somewhat confusing remarks about two hours after his meeting yesterday at the White House with Kozyrev, President Clinton expressed deep reservations about the European idea of havens, and left the impression that U.S. participation in such an operation was not imminent.

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