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GOP lawmaker criticizes White House rebuff of POW mission

POWs
From left, Ramirez, Stone, and Gonzales
 

April 23, 1999
Web posted at: 7:35 p.m. EDT (2335 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 23) -- A Republican congressman on Friday lashed out at the Clinton administration for vetoing a joint U.S.-Russian mission to check on the status of three captured U.S. soldiers in Yugoslavia.

Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pennsylvania) called the decision by the White House not to participate in the proposed mission "outrageous."

Weldon, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, was to have been one of the U.S. envoys in the delegation, along with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland).

The mission to check on the American detainees was proposed earlier this month by Vladimir Ryzhkov, deputy speaker of the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament. The delegation -- which was to have included members of the Russian parliament along with the U.S. lawmakers -- was to have gone to Belgrade this weekend.

But Clinton administration officials decided that such a trip would be at odds with the current break in diplomatic relations between the United States and Yugoslavia, unless approved by the State Department.

Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbott said the proposed mission would be counterproductive.

Weldon, relying on assurances from the Russians, said the delegation was to have met not only with the soldiers but with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

He said that a top goal of the mission would have been to get Milosevic to agree to NATO's conditions for ending the bombing of Yugoslavia. But Weldon denied that the meeting was any kind of "renegade" effort to negotiate with the Yugoslav leader.

The three American soldiers, captured on April 1, were part of an unarmed peacekeeping force patrolling the border between Yugoslavia and Macedonia. Yugoslav officials say that they were detained after venturing into Yugoslav territory, but NATO officials insist they were abducted on the Macedonian side of the border.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Andrew A. Ramirez, Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Stone and Spec. Steven M. Gonzales were shown on Serbian television hours after their capture. They haven't been seen since.

For continuous breaking news, see AP Newstream

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