Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 98

Marathon talks in Helsinki, Bonn and Belgrade yesterday yielded hints from officials involved that a political resolution of the Kosovo conflict may be within reach. But there was no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough at any of the negotiating sessions. Yesterday’s talks came as NATO allies tried to patch up internal differences related to policy toward Kosovo, and particularly to the question of whether ground forces should be used in the conflict. In Yugoslavia, meanwhile, there was evidence of growing popular dissatisfaction with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s policies toward the war-torn province.

Yesterday’s negotiations in Helsinki–a continuation of long negotiations that had begun in the Finnish capital a day earlier–involved Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, Russia’s special Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. Few details of yesterday’s meeting were made public, but Talbott told reporters afterward that there “are no fundamental differences left between the United States and Russia on solving the Kosovo crisis.” The statement may have exaggerated the success of the talks, however. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters that Russia and the United States remain divided over key details of how the peace process should proceed. “We’re broadening the areas of agreement with Russia,” he said. “But clearly, there are major gaps that remain” (Western agencies, Kyodo, May 19).

Yesterday’s talks in Bonn–which involved diplomats from the Group of Seven (G-7) countries and Russia–came to a similarly inconclusive end. Russia and the G-7 countries reached agreement nearly two weeks ago on a framework peace plan for the Kosovo conflict, one which has remained the basis of international negotiations since then. The diplomats had hoped to flesh out that initial peace proposal in their meeting yesterday. They had also hoped to advance plans whereby the peace proposal might be transformed into a UN Security Council Resolution which would both meet Western demands for a resolution of the conflict and satisfy Russia and China–the permanent council members most supportive of Belgrade.

The talks in Bonn yesterday were apparently stymied by enduring differences between Russia and the G-7 countries over the composition of a proposed international security force for Kosovo. NATO continues to insist that its troops should be at the core of any such force. Moscow and Belgrade have backed a less robust force which would have little or no NATO involvement.

Reports from Bonn yesterday said that the two sides also remained divided over a series of sequencing issues related to implementation of the peace plan. China–with increasing support from Moscow–has said that it will not allow discussion of a peace plan for Kosovo in the Security Council until NATO halts its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. NATO has rejected that position. Russia and the G-7 countries are reportedly also divided on the related issue of whether a Kosovo peace plan should be brought to the Security Council before or after Yugoslavia agrees to end the conflict. Finally, a German delegate said yesterday that disagreements remained over the timetable for Milosevic’s withdrawal of his forces from Kosovo combined with an end to NATO’s air strikes. He suggested that a timetable should be found which would ensure that “neither side loses face” (AP, Reuters, May 19).