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NATO, Russia Differ on Kosovo

June 12, 1998

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Russia and the NATO allies agreed Friday that the slaughter in Kosovo represents a grave danger to peace in the Balkans, but failed to agree on what steps to take against defiant Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Defense Secretary William Cohen talked twice Friday with Russian counterpart Igor Sergeyev, stressing the urgency of finding a way to stop the bloodshed in the separatist province.

``We are looking at a very short time frame ... to solve this peacefully,″ Cohen told a news conference at the end of a two-day North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense ministers’ meeting.

Russia _ a key supporter of the Serbs in Yugoslavia _ has resisted any use of force to stop the Serb crackdown on the independence-seeking ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Moscow has to ``take into account that it might be isolated in the world community if it does not seek a way to bring whatever leverage it can to bring Milosevic to the table,″ Cohen said.

The talks between Russia and the 15 NATO defense ministers came a day after NATO approved a show-of-force air exercise over Yugoslavia’s neighbors, Albania and Macedonia, in hopes of making Milosevic rethink his aggressive stance toward Kosovo’s independence movement.

The exercise will probably be early next week, perhaps as early as Sunday, and will involve mock air attacks and bombing raids.

The ministers also ordered military planners to study options for further action, ranging from military exercises in the region to direct air strikes inside Yugoslavia and use of ground troops.

Cohen said there was a great ``sense of urgency among NATO members″ that something must be done quickly to stop Milosevic’s attacks on ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of Kosovo’s population and support independence from Yugoslavia _ an aspiration NATO does not support.

Sergeyev, the Russian defense minister, said his government ``is convinced we haven’t exhausted all nonmilitary means ... to resolve this crisis.″

``NATO, all the ministers, and Russia have a unanimous attitude toward the events in Kosovo,″ said Sergeyev. ``Our differences are in assessment, approach and methods.″

If ``other methods″ must be adopted, he said, they ``should be the prerogative of the U.N. Security Council.″

In London, where NATO foreign ministers met, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the United States believes it has the authority to go forward with military exercises in a show of force to Milosovic.

``We have inherent authority to do what needs to be done,″ she told reporters. ``I believe the discussion today shows the Russians are as concerned about what’s going on as we are.″

In Belgrade, a close Milosevic aide warned that the Yugoslav army would treat NATO as an intruder if it intervened in Kosovo.

``We know that in a clash with NATO _ it’s stupid even to think about that _ we don’t stand a chance,″ aide Zoran Lilic said. ``But it is (the Yugoslav army’s) duty to defend the territory against anybody who tries to enter by force.″

``We would have to defend the territory ... with all means available for as long as we could,″ he said.

If Washington wants to stop the conflict, he said, it should get the ethnic Albanian militants to cease fire.

Macedonia has not yet given its authorization for the planned military exercises over its territory, but Albania was elated by NATO’s promise to _ at least _ threaten force.

``We are very pleased,″ Albanian Defense Minister Luan Hajdaraga said. ``The stand of Milosevic in the Kosovo crisis is very clear _ it is to dominate the situation by military means.″

The danger, he said, is that ``those means can spread to Albania.″

Albania said Friday that it would offer NATO air space and airfields. Macedonia summoned its government into late-night session. Parliament may convene over the weekend to debate the maneuvers, according to sources in the capital, Skopje.

Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, would not give details on the exercises, saying they were still being developed by NATO planners. Nor could he say what might trigger direct military intervention in Kosovo.

A joint statement at the end of the meeting said the NATO defense ministers ``condemned Belgrade’s massive and disproportionate use of force, as well as violent attacks by Kosovo Albanian extremists.″

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