Web posted at: 6:00 p.m. EST (2300 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton said Thursday that the United States is "seriously considering" sending troops to enforce peace, if a settlement is reached in war-scarred Kosovo.
"The Balkans are an explosive area. They touch other difficult areas, and unless we can contain and ultimately defuse the ethnic hatreds in that region they can embroil us ... in a much larger conflict," Clinton said.
Both Serbian government leaders and ethnic Albanian rebels, who have been locked in a battle for control of the Serbian province, will meet Saturday near Paris to discuss a U.S. peace proposal.
The U.S. Congress has reacted skeptically to the Clinton administration's suggestions that U.S. troops may be needed to help NATO enforce peace in Kosovo. But Clinton said he was concerned that the violence, if unchecked, could spread to Albania and Macedonia, and even draw in Greece and Turkey.
The president was adamant that no troops should be committed unless the warring parties reach a firm agreement at the weekend talks.
And while he said that no decision had been reached on the deployment of U.S. troops, he seemed sure that their presence would be required to help enforce a deal.
The Serbian parliament voted Thursday to send a delegation to the peace talks on Kosovo, but lawmakers blasted NATO for threatening to use force to get the talks moving.
The West is "knocking on an open door," Serbian Premier Mirko Marjanovic told parliament. "We stay open for a peaceful solution" of the Kosovo crisis.
The vote was 227-3 with three abstentions.
"It is our stand to accept the invitation because of our people's and our state's firm commitment to fight for peace, to defend Kosovo as a vital state and national interest of Serbia and Yugoslavia, where the issue is discussed," Gorica Gajevic, secretary-general of the ruling Socialist Party, told parliament before the vote.
Gajevic, whose party is led by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, said Kosovo must remain within Serbia, and NATO troops would not be allowed in to secure any kind of autonomy arrangement for the ethnic Albanian-dominated province.
The Serb parliamentary debate was called Thursday -- two days before a deadline to attend talks or face NATO airstrikes.
While the parliament has approved sending a delegation to the talks, it is unclear when the full lineup of delegates will be announced or whether federal representatives will go to France.
U.S. Kosovo envoy Chris Hill and his European counterpart, Wolfgang Petritsch, met officials in Belgrade on Wednesday to try to convince them to send a senior delegation to the Paris talks, representing federal Yugoslavia as well as the main Yugoslav republic, Serbia.
They persuaded Kosovo's separatist Albanian rebels to agree to the talks on Tuesday but Milosevic, who holds ultimate power in Belgrade, has played his cards close to his chest.
"Many Serbs feel (Kosovo province) is an indelible part of Serbia," Hill told CNN on Wednesday.
"It's very difficult to come to a settlement with people whom they brand as terrorists and with an international community which they always claim does not understand the issues," Hill said. A U.S. peace plan, which will be on the table at the talks in Rambouillet outside Paris, calls for a three-year period of greater autonomy for Kosovo, with Serbia and Kosovo to decide the next step.
Leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army said they had little faith that the negotiations would result in a permanent peace and vowed not to sign any deal unless they are promised a vote on independence.
Independence "will come with war and not talks," said one rebel commander known as Remi. "The Serb side knows only force."
A KLA spokesman, Jakup Krasniqui, believed to be in the top tier of the rebel command, said rebels "will demand from the international community a guarantee that after a three-year period, the Albanian people have the right to decide in a referendum on their freedom and independence."
Fighting between ethnic Albanian rebels and Serb forces has killed an estimated 2,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands during the past year in Kosovo.
Serbia votes to send delegation to Kosovo talks
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