GENEVA -- The United States, Russia and the European Union agreed yesterday to seek fresh economic sanctions against Serbia in reprisal for the Bosnian Serbs' rejection of their peace plan last week. But they shied away from other, tougher measures, such as lifting the arms embargo on the Muslim-led Bosnian government.
After a six-hour meeting here, Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Russia defended their decision as consistent with a step-by-step approach aimed at persuading the Bosnian Serb leadership to accept their proposed territorial division of Bosnia. Serbia is the main supporter of the Bosnian Serbs, and the new sanctions are intended to make Belgrade pressure its Bosnian allies to agree to the plan.
Preparing for follow-up measures if the Bosnian Serbs do not change their minds, the five nations also requested final planning for strict enforcement and extension of the current ban on heavy weapons around Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, and the town of Gorazde in eastern Bosnia. The Bosnian Serbs have been told to keep those weapons out of the so-called exclusion zones or face air strikes.
But while cautioning the Serbs against attempting a new siege of Sarajevo and demanding an end to recent attacks on United Nations forces, the so-called "contact group" of five nations did not specifically threaten NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb positions.
In a joint statement, the five nations reminded the Bosnian Serbs that lifting of the arms embargo on the Muslim-dominated Bosnian government "could become unavoidable" if they remained intransigent. But in a nod to known Russian, French and British opposition, the statement referred to such a step as "a last resort."
In a joint news conference, Mr. Christopher nonetheless warned that the Clinton administration would come under "very strong irresistible pressure" from Congress to lift the embargo if this phased approach fails.
"We're not prepared to see this process strung out indefinitely," he said.
But at this stage, despite what diplomats interpreted as carefully planned military muscle-flexing by the Bosnian Serbs around Sarajevo and Gorazde this week, the five nations appear to consider preservation of their cohesion as important as sending a strong message to the Bosnian Serbs.
Russia's foreign minister, Andrei V. Kozyrev, said at the news conference that the group had agreed on the need for unity, firmness and patience.
"It is easy to give in to emotion, anger and irritation," he said, adding that measures beyond sanctions would need "serious working out."
He also warned against any unilateral U.S. move to lift the arms embargo by noting that there were also "hotheads" in the Russian Parliament ready to gather a majority in favor of Russia lifting sanctions against Serbia.
"So unity has its own value," he said.