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U.N. eases sanctions on Serbia Clinton speech Monday will try to build support for sending U.S. troops; Army chief of staff is grim; Aide talks of passing 'mother test': What to tell casualty's mother?


WASHINGTON -- The United Nations Security Council handed a swift reward to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic yesterday for accepting a Bosnian peace plan, suspending the tough trade and economic sanctions that pushed him toward the negotiating table.

A day after Mr. Milosevic joined the presidents of Bosnia and Croatia in initialing an agreement to end the 3 1/2 -year-old Bosnian war, the Security Council voted unanimously to suspend the sanctions imposed in 1992 as punishment for Serbia's support of Bosnian Serb aggression.

The vote fulfilled an American commitment made well before the peace talks concluded Tuesday at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The sanctions are due to be lifted totally once the peace plan is implemented.

The easing of trade sanctions would not apply to Bosnian Serb-held areas of Bosnia until after their forces withdraw to buffer zones created by the agreement.

President Clinton, meanwhile, postponed for a day next week's European trip so he can deliver a televised address to the nation at 8 Monday night.

The speech is an effort to build support among a skeptical public and a Republican-controlled Congress for his plan to send 20,000 Americans to Bosnia as part of a NATO force of 60,000 that is to police the accord.

"It is incumbent upon the commander in chief to make that case clearly because everyone is well aware of the test that is often called the 'mother test' -- What do you say to the mother of the young man who has lost his life in pursuit of this peace agreement?" said Mike McCurry, the White House press secretary. "That is a risk this president thinks is well worth taking."

The administration opened its campaign yesterday, with Vice President Al Gore arguing in a morning television interview:

"The risks of not seizing this opportunity to stop the slaughter far, far exceed the minimal risks to NATO of going in to enforce this peace."

The Army chief of staff, Gen. Dennis J. Reimer, sounded a grimmer note in a breakfast meeting with reporters.

"This is tough business," the general said. "I think if we make a commitment to this that we've got to expect a certain amount of casualties. We've got to be able to withstand those casualties."

Another key administration spokesman, Assistant Secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke, sought to quell fears that the Bosnian Serbs could wreck the peace. The Bosnian Serbs were pushed aside in the Dayton talks by Mr. Milosevic, and their representatives refused to initial the accord.

Mr. Holbrooke, in a television interview, said the Bosnian Serbs, "thuggish though they are," couldn't undercut the deal without Belgrade's support. On Tuesday, he called them key to the success of the agreement.

Yesterday's Security Council action allows Serbia to emerge from the war with not only a strong military advantage over neighboring Croats and Muslims but the chance to rebuild its economy as well.

However, U.S. officials insist that Serbia won't be allowed to fulfill its economic potential unless it cooperates with the U.N.-mandated investigation into war crimes. This is because the Clinton administration, with likely support from Germany, will block major loans or credits from international financial institutions unless Serbia cooperates.

The council also voted to lift, in phases, the arms embargo imposed on the six republics of the former Yugoslavia that has kept Bosnia's Muslims at a strategic disadvantage. Russia, which has long-standing ties with the Serbs, abstained but did not exercise its veto.

The arms vote does not have any immediate practical effect. It allows the Balkan republics to import defensive weapons, such as anti-tank rockets, three months after the peace agreement is formally signed and would end the arms embargo altogether six months after the signing.

Lifting the embargo would enable the Muslims to become better equipped in case the war resumes after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force leaves. U.S. officials hope, alternatively, that it PTC would create a military balance that would prevent renewed fighting.

The Dayton peace agreement spells out a program for reducing armaments among all the warring parties, but some analysts believe that it is unrealistic to expect the Bosnian Serbs to comply fully.

"I don't see why the Serbs would build down," said Susan Woodward, a Balkans expert at the Brookings Institution.

Bosnians had hoped for a written commitment from the United States to provide them with arms and training. Instead they received a verbal assurance that both would be provided, but probably by a third country.

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