Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 35

Clinton administration officials denied yesterday that President Boris Yeltsin had delivered any new message to Washington warning the United States against launching airstrikes on Yugoslavia. Western and Russian news agencies reported yesterday that Yeltsin had told Clinton during a telephone conversation that “we will not let you touch Kosovo” in the event that peace talks in France fail (see the Monitor, February 18).

U.S. officials said yesterday, however, that they were puzzled by the press reports of Yeltsin’s remarks because Clinton and the Russian president have not spoken for several weeks. They suggested that Yeltsin’s remarks yesterday were only a restatement of Moscow’s longstanding opposition to NATO military intervention in Yugoslavia. The U.S. interpretation of events appeared to have been confirmed by a Kremlin spokesman, who said that the Russian and American presidents had discussed the issue of Kosovo “in recent conversations” (Reuters, February 18). Yeltsin, it might be worth noting, has a long history of making gaffes in his foreign policy pronouncements.

Russian objections notwithstanding, NATO continued preparations yesterday for what could be a punishing air campaign against Yugoslavia if Belgrade refuses to accept the Western plan for Kosovo now being discussed in Rambouillet, France. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reportedly told Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by telephone yesterday that Yugoslav forces and military facilities would be “hit and hit hard” if he fails to accept the Kosovo autonomy plan by tomorrow’s deadline. NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, speaking in Macedonia, conveyed a similar message, saying that air strikes could come very soon if Serbia blocks the peace agreement (UPI, Reuters, February 18).