Yugoslav OK of peace plan cautiously welcomed by Washington
June 3, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top officials in Washington cautiously welcomed the news Thursday that Yugoslav leaders have accepted a plan to end the war over Kosovo.
But they also made it clear that NATO airstrikes would continue until the Yugoslavs take concrete steps to demonstrate compliance with the agreement, which calls for the removal of Yugoslav troops from the disputed province.
"NATO intends to continue the airstrikes until (President Slobodan) Milosevic and the government of Yugoslavia convincingly demonstrate that the fighting is over, that Serb forces are withdrawing and that a NATO-led force can enter Kosovo to provide the security that the refugees need to return to their homes," said Defense Secretary William Cohen.
"To this point, not a single Serb soldier has withdrawn from Kosovo, and we have to keep that in mind as we view the workings of today," he said.
President Bill Clinton said movement by the Yugoslav leadership to accept the plan's terms was "encouraging news," but he said that "based on our past experience, we must also be cautious."
"We must have clarity that the Serbian leadership has fully accepted these conditions and intends to fully implement them," Clinton said.
"Until then, and until Serb forces begin a verifiable withdrawal from Kosovo, we will continue to pursue diplomacy, but we will also continue the military effort that has brought us to this point," he said.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the acceptance of the peace plan a "vital first step."
"But the confrontation cannot end until these terms are complied with and implemented. As a result, caution is the word of the day," she said.
"There's an incredible amount of work to be done, both in the military-to-military context and on the diplomatic front, and we're going to take this one step at a time and keep a clear vision," Albright said.
Cohen said that the initial vanguard of U.S. peacekeeping troops could be sent into Kosovo "within days" once it becomes clear that the Yugoslavs intend to comply with the agreement, which calls for a NATO-led force in Kosovo.
The troops could come from a NATO contingent already in Macedonia, from Army units in Albania and from a Marine expeditionary force in the region, he said.
Pentagon sources told CNN that some 2,200 Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Lejune, North Carolina, cut short a port call in Italy and are on their way to Greece for possible deployment.
Sources said the Marines would go ashore at the Greek port of Thessaloniki, travel overland to a staging base in Macedonia and then go into Kosovo, where they would join an international peacekeeping force expected to grow to 50,000 troops.
Eventually, the Marines and the other U.S. troops would be replaced by 7,000 soldiers from the Army's 1st Infantry Division, based in Germany.
Within the next several days, Cohen said he expects there will be contact between NATO and the Yugoslav military to work out the details of its troop withdrawal from Kosovo. Once NATO is convinced that the troop movements are genuine, they will be allowed to proceed without drawing NATO air fire, he said.
Both Albright and Cohen said they expect that, as the peace agreement brokered by Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari is implemented and the Yugoslavs withdraw, the Kosovo Liberation Army will disarm.
The ethnic Albanian KLA took up arms against the Yugoslav government in a quest to make Kosovo independent, and its troops have been battling Yugoslav forces inside Kosovo since the NATO airstrikes began in March.
But under the terms of the Rambouillet agreement which it accepted prior to the airstrikes, the KLA is supposed to lay down its weapons in favor of an international peacekeeping force.
"We have every confidence that if the Serb government takes steps to comply with the agreement that the KLA -- consistent with their agreement at Rambouillet -- would in fact work to carry this out," Cohen said.
Albright -- whose staff has been in contact with KLA representatives since the announcement that the Yugoslavs had agreed to the Ahtisaari peace framework -- expressed similar confidence that the KLA would "demilitarize on the basis of Rambouillet."
Asked what would convince the KLA to disarm after all that has happened in the past two and a half months, Cohen said "the motivation would be that there would be a period of peace, of stability and, hopefully, one day a return of some level of prosperity to the region."
He added, "We think that the opportunity for peace under these circumstances is something that will be attractive to them."
Milosevic's indictment for crimes against humanity by an international war crimes tribunal is not affected by the agreement brokered by Ahtisaari, said Albright's spokesman, James Rubin.
In her remarks at a press conference Thursday, Albright indicated that the current Milosevic-led government in Belgrade could be an obstacle to Western efforts to help Yugoslavia recover from the war.
"Working with our partners in Europe, we're determined to help the nations of southeast Europe integrate themselves fully into the mainstream of the Euro-Atlantic community. And this includes Serbia -- when that nation becomes democratic," she said.
Clinton: Wait until we 'see real results' in Kosovo
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