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Crisis put on hold; Kosovo: Delay after partial agreement risks war before resumption of talks.

AFTER 17 days and a partial agreement in the Kosovo negotiations, nothing is assured.

If the Yugoslav army and Albanian rebels don't renew fighting before the March 15 resumption of negotiations in France; if President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia accepts a NATO peace-keeping force in Kosovo; if Albanian extremists settle without a guarantee of sovereignty, and if Congress allows a few thousand U.S. troops among 30,000 NATO troops on the ground -- then the tough peace that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wants to impose on the Balkans might succeed.

It was worth a try. Preventing war against civilians always is. It is too early to know if the peace conference at Rambouillet failed.

The Albanian delegation has delayed signing the agreement for two weeks while consulting with people back in Kosovo. That implies an effort to convince Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas to settle for half a loaf.

Thanks to the Albanian delays, the Serb-Yugoslav delegation went home claiming victory. And the NATO force poised to bomb Serbia for resuming hostilities is inhibited from doing so.

Meanwhile, Yugoslav troops are massing near the borders.

A peace-keeping force with a U.S. component already is next door in Macedonia, a fragile republic that probably could not survive war in Kosovo.

If war has not been renewed by the time the Albanians, Yugoslavs and six-nation Contact Group are supposed to meet again in France, peace would still have a chance, however slim, in Kosovo.

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