Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 98

After his talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari in Helsinki, Viktor Chernomyrdin proceeded yesterday to Belgrade, where he held some seven hours of talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Details of those negotiations were also scarce, but the Yugoslav side reportedly agreed that any solution to the Kosovo crisis should be based on the principles elaborated by the G-7 countries and Russia.

There were important provisos, however. For one, Chernomyrdin was quoted by Milosevic’s office as saying that NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia must first be halted. Although that position has been insisted upon increasingly by Moscow, it was not included in the package of principles originally agreed upon by Russia and the G-7 countries.

Equally important, Milosevic reportedly said that details of the Western-drafted peace plan would have to be negotiated between Yugoslavia and the UN. That would appear to fall short of NATO’s demand that Belgrade accept the peace plan without qualification. A Yugoslav government statement also said that Milosevic and Chernomyrdin had agreed that a resolution of the Kosovo conflict “can only be reached by political means and under U.S. supervision, and that Yugoslav participation is indispensable in working out details of the principles” contained in the Russian-G-7 plan.

Chernomyrdin appeared to confirm that version of yesterday’s events. He told reporters following the talks yesterday that “Yugoslavia should be seated at the negotiating table,” and that the peace process should be “diverted into a political channel under the aegis of the UN.” Such a move would serve both Moscow’s and Belgrade’s interests by taking the initiative for negotiating a Kosovo settlement out of NATO’s hands and giving it instead to the UN–where Moscow has veto power.

In general, Chernomyrdin had little to say of his talks in Belgrade. He did reveal, however, that the most difficult issue he faced in negotiating with Milosevic was the international demand that Serbian security forces be withdrawn from Kosovo and an international security force be deployed there instead (AP, Reuters, Itar-Tass, May 19).

In any event, negotiations for an end to the Kosovo conflict are set to continue at their frenetic pace in the days to come. Chernomyrdin, Talbott and Ahtisaari are set to hold additional talks in Moscow tonight. Talbott, who also briefed the G-7 officials in Bonn yesterday, will then travel to Brussels, where he will perform a similar service for the North Atlantic Council. Chernomyrdin, in turn, is scheduled to return to Belgrade for yet another round of talks with Milosevic early next week. The talks between Russian and G-7 diplomats in Bonn, meanwhile, are set to resume this morning, when the two sides will try to iron out their remaining differences.