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Administration officials clash over lifting Bosnian sanctions Rejected proposal meant to encourage peace talks


WASHINGTON -- Days before Bosnian peace talks are to begin in Ohio, factions in the Clinton administration clashed over a State Department proposal, ultimately rejected last week, to suspend most economic sanctions against Serbia as a way of encouraging progress in the talks, administration officials say.

Richard C. Holbrooke, the chief American negotiator for Bosnia, had recommended that the United States press for a Security Council resolution to suspend most of the sanctions.

But Madeleine K. Albright, the American representative to the United Nations, argued at the White House that such a move was unwise because President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia had not yet made peace.

Moreover, Ms. Albright contended, it would be logistically impossible because other Security Council members needed to be consulted well in advance, the officials said.

According to a senior U.S. official, Secretary of State Warren Christopher supported Mr. Holbrooke's recommendation. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry expressed some discomfort with the proposal, but said he would defer to Mr. Holbrooke's judgment.

The sanctions would have been suspended only for the duration of the peace talks, and would have been reimposed if the negotiations failed to bring about a settlement, officials said.

Mr. Holbrooke finally withdrew the recommendation, for the moment, in a meeting of President Clinton's national security advisers Friday because of the depth of opposition both in the administration and in the Bosnian government, senior officials said.

And the recommendation did not reach Mr. Clinton, a senior official said.

Mr. Holbrooke has been pressing for some relief from the sanctions since the cease-fire went into effect, as an incentive for him to give the peace negotiations this week the "biggest possible momentum," an official said.

"These are tactics to give Milosevic a real stake in being there in Dayton," a senior administration official said.

"No one was talking about total lifting of the sanctions. We were talking about suspending them.

"If the negotiations had broken down, they would have been reinstated. It was a negotiating tactic, to answer the question how do you get the negotiations going."

Ms. Albright argued strongly throughout the week that suspending sanctions would look as if the United States were pushing the Security Council into rewarding Mr. Milosevic before he agreed to peace.

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