Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 72

Another day of frenetic diplomatic maneuvering yesterday failed to either bring the Kosovo conflict closer to a peaceful resolution or significantly narrow Washington’s and Moscow’s differences over the Balkans crisis. The highlight of yesterday’s events was a long meeting in Oslo between U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, after which both sides said that they had managed to “narrow their differences” over how to best deal with Kosovo and agreed to remain in close contact over developments there. U.S. officials, moreover, were said to be heartened by the fact that during his visit Ivanov chose to abandon the strident, Cold War-style rhetoric which has marked his recent criticism of NATO actions. The officials suggested that there were also signs that Moscow wanted to break out of its current diplomatic isolation by playing a more constructive role in resolving the conflict.

Despite all this, however, the two sides clearly failed to reach common ground on several key issues. Of greatest significance, Ivanov continued to insist that any political settlement in Kosovo could come only after NATO halted its bombing campaign, which he called a “cul-de-sac,” in the effort to resolve the conflict. Albright, for her part, restated the Alliance’s view–which was given renewed support during a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels earlier this week–that the air campaign would continue until Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic fully complied with a series of Western demands.

The two sides also failed to reach an agreement on the status and composition of a proposed international peacekeeping force which would implement any Kosovo peace agreement. The West has continued to insist that deployment of the force is a necessary condition of such a settlement. But NATO members have recently amended their position with regard to the composition of the peacekeeping force, no longer insisting that it be a purely NATO operation. Ivanov, however, said that, because Yugoslavia has rejected the deployment of a NATO force, further discussions should be held about “acceptable forms of an international presence” in Kosovo. He repeated the proposal that the force might be sent to Kosovo under the aegis of either the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe or the UN. Albright said that NATO must, at the very least, serve as the “core” of any peacekeeping mission in Kosovo (Reuters, AP, April 13; International Herald Tribune, April 14).

A Russian daily, meanwhile, editorialized yesterday that the West appears increasingly ready to seek a diplomatic compromise to end the worsening conflict. The newspaper pointed to NATO’s overture to Russia this week as evidence supporting that view.

More than that, the paper suggested that the West and Russia could eventually embrace a plan which would signify a de-facto partition of Kosovo. Under such a scenario, the newspaper said, Russian troops invited to participate in a Kosovo peacekeeping force would be assigned to patrol the northern part of the province (the portion most important to Belgrade), while Western forces would be deployed throughout the remainder of the territory. Ultimately, the newspaper hypothesized, the northern zone patrolled by Russia would fall to Serbia, while the remainder of the province would be granted some sort of independence–or even be allowed to join Albania (Izvestia, April 13).