Diplomats and government officials continued to say yesterday that a Kosovo peace settlement might be in reach, but there was little hard evidence to suggest that the West had overcome still significant differences between its own positions and those of Moscow and Belgrade. The focal points of yesterday’s diplomatic activities were Moscow and Bonn. In the Russian capital, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin briefed Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari on the results of Chernomyrdin’s extensive talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic a day earlier. Later, Chernomyrdin convened with both Ahtisaari and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott for further discussions on Kosovo. Those talks, on which little information was available, reportedly went late into the night.
In Bonn, meanwhile, talks between diplomats from Russia and the Group of Seven (G-7) countries appeared still to be at an impasse. Envoys there met for some twelve hours–their second straight day of marathon talks–but apparently failed to draw up an acceptable text for use as a UN resolution spelling out the terms for a settlement of the Kosovo conflict. Although diplomats said that they had achieved some “essential progress” in their negotiations, they did not expect to be able to finalize a document when they resumed their talks today. According to a German government source, several sticking points remain. They include the terms for a pullback of Serb forces from Kosovo, ending the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia while ensuring the return of ethnic Albanian refugees under international escort, and defining the role that NATO would have in such an international force (Reuters, AP, May 20).
Two weeks ago the G-7 countries and Russia agreed on a framework peace agreement which was also to be used as the basis for a UN Security Council resolution. The agreement, embodied in a joint statement, contained what NATO has called its nonnegotiable demands for an end to the bombing campaign. Those demands include the withdrawal of the approximately 40,000-strong Serb force believed to be in Kosovo, the return of the nearly 800,000 ethnic Albanians who have been driven from the war-torn province and the deployment in Kosovo of a robust international military force with NATO at its core. Despite the seeming agreement reached earlier, NATO and Russia have had trouble fleshing out the points contained in the original joint statement. The two sides have had related difficulties, as was evidenced anew yesterday, in drafting a corresponding UN resolution acceptable to both Russia and China–each of which has supported Belgrade while calling for an immediate end to NATO’s air campaign.
Following his briefing of Ahtisaari yesterday, Chernomyrdin told journalists that he had conveyed “good news” to the Finnish President regarding the progress made in his talks a day earlier with Milosevic. However, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, commenting after a briefing of his own with Strobe Talbott, said that significant differences remain between NATO and Russia over a diplomatic solution to the Kosovo conflict. He told reporters that the “Russians are still pretty far away, but things are moving ahead” (Reuters, May 20). France has generally been a strong supporter of continuing the air war against Yugoslavia.
DIPLOMATS DESCEND ON MOSCOW.