Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 186

Foreign ministers from the six-nation Contact Group, meeting in London last night, appeared to move the West closer to military strikes on Yugoslavia. But, amid continuing resistance to the military option in several key capitals, the group also authorized yet another diplomatic mission to Belgrade in an eleventh-hour effort to avert the proposed NATO air strikes. U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke is to fly to Belgrade today, where he will present to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic a list of six demands aimed at forcing Belgrade to comply with an earlier UN resolution on Kosovo. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook warned after the London meeting last night that Milosevic should not underestimate the resolve behind the resolution, which seeks to end Belgrade’s crackdown in the independence-minded province. “If Milosevic does not comply with the Security Council resolution, he will be responsible for the consequences, and they will be grave,” Cook told reporters.

But the Contact Group statement itself–which called on Milosevic to fulfill the UN resolution without mentioning possible military reprisals–reflected persisting differences over the Kosovo crisis. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov restated Russia’s opposition to any use of force by NATO, which he said would carry “dire consequences of an international nature.” Ivanov also said that last night’s meeting had in fact moved the Contact Group closer to a political settlement of the crisis in Kosovo. “I am deeply convinced that Milosevic understands the seriousness of the situation and intends to fulfill completely resolution 1199 (the relevant UN document),” he said. “Every day the situation [in Kosovo] is getting better.” Although U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told reporters that NATO was close to unanimity in approving strikes on targets in Kosovo and Serbia, there were indications yesterday that Germany and Italy had not yet agreed to back the military option (AP, October 8; Reuters, Washington Post, October 9).

Last night’s meeting in London capped another day of frenetic diplomatic maneuvering over Kosovo. Albright’s arrival in London followed her briefing to NATO ambassadors in Brussels, during which she labored to ensure backing for the proposed strikes on Yugoslavia. Ivanov, in turn, arrived in London following consultations in Belgrade, where the Russian minister held talks with Milosevic, Serb President Milan Milutinovic, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic and the Russian ambassador to Yugoslavia, Yuri Kotov. Russian reports of the meeting suggested that if Ivanov had indeed pushed hard for Yugoslavia’s compliance with UN demands, his pressure had not disturbed the close ties between Moscow and Belgrade. A statement circulated by Yugoslavia and reported by Itar-Tass said that the two countries had agreed to work together to seek a peaceful resolution to the Kosovo problem. The two sides were also said to have described as unacceptable NATO’s threat of military intervention in Yugoslavia, and to have warned that NATO strikes would undermine the international order and the peaceful coexistence of the European people (Itar-Tass, October 9).

In recent days there have been various warnings by Moscow that NATO strikes on Yugoslavia–absent additional authorization by the UN Security Council–would compel Russia to reconsider or break off its cooperative relations with the Western alliance. The United States and Britain appeared to make clear yesterday, however, that the Russian threat would not deter the alliance from approving the military option. The British foreign secretary was quoted last night as saying that the use of force was a matter for NATO to decide. Russia, he said, would not be invited to approve it. Albright likewise referred to Russia in saying that “all members of the Contact Group may not agree” on the use of force to resolve the Kosovo crisis, but that “those that do not agree would not have a veto over the action” (Reuters, October 9). The Contact Group is made up of the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and Italy.