Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 79

The Clinton administration reacted cautiously yesterday to press reports indicating that former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin had won a commitment from Yugoslav authorities to permit an “international presence” in Kosovo. The announcement followed some eight hours of talks in Belgrade between Chernomyrdin–recently named the Kremlin’s special envoy for the Kosovo crisis–and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Reports yesterday suggested that Chernomyrdin was pleased by the outcome of his talks in Belgrade, but there were few details immediately available on what precisely he had accomplished. The former Russian prime minister told reporters that Milosevic had agreed to “an international presence in Kosovo under the auspices of the United Nations and with Russian participation.” But Chernomyrdin also said that a joint document he signed with Milosevic does not spell out what kind of international force the Yugoslav leader has in mind, or what countries it might be drawn from. “This is still to be discussed,” he said. “But the main thing is that Russia must take part.”

In Washington, U.S. President Bill Clinton responded warily to the Russian initiative. Speaking to reporters at the conclusion of a White House meeting with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, Clinton told reporters that “if there is an offer for a genuine security force, that’s the first time that Mr. Milosevic has ever done [so], and [it] represents, I suppose, some step forward.” Clinton reiterated U.S. support for a Kosovo peacekeeping force which includes troops from the Orthodox Christian countries–including Russia and Ukraine. But he also said that a major U.S. role in the peacekeeping force was critical (AP, Reuters, UPI, Russian agencies, April 22).

The results of yesterday’s talks in Belgrade are sure to be welcomed in Moscow, which has long opposed the NATO strikes on Yugoslavia and long called for a political solution to the Kosovo conflict. But it remained unclear yesterday whether Milosevic had made any real move toward satisfying key Western demands, or whether–as seems more likely–yesterday’s talks were aimed at undermining NATO’s unity on the eve of its fiftieth anniversary summit in Washington. Belgrade had previously indicated that it would accept the deployment in Kosovo of an unarmed, civilian monitoring force under the auspices of the UN or non-NATO countries, but that option was not acceptable to the West.