Dole’s Help Asked in Kosovo Talks
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Trying to nail down at least half an agreement to end fighting in Kosovo, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is asking for help from Bob Dole. The 1996 Republican presidential nominee apparently is willing to try.
``She spoke with him on the telephone, and he has agreed to travel to the region to urge agreement on the interim settlement plan,″ deputy State Department spokesman James P. Foley said Monday. ``I believe the details on his schedule and itinerary are still being worked out, so there’s been no formal announcement yet.″
At the end of a second round of mediation by Albright last month, she announced that the ethnic Albanians had accepted in principle a self-rule plan proposed by the United States and five other nations to end fighting in Kosovo.
With another round due to open March 15, the Kosovo Albanians are considering whether to set aside their aspirations for independence and accept the settlement offered to them.
The Serbs, meanwhile, have not accepted all provisions of the self-rule arrangement. Nor were they willing to have NATO peacekeeping troops deployed in Kosovo, which is the other half of the plan.
``We still believe a political settlement is in our grasp,″ Foley said, referring to the autonomy half of the plan.
Asked why Albright was enlisting Dole’s help, Foley said: ``He is someone who has stood up for the Kosovar Albanians for many years. He’s well-known to them, and he would be able to speak to them on behalf of the United States as someone who is concerned about their situation and their future.″
Dole could not be reached for comment. His spokesman, Douglas MacKinnon, said he did not know about Dole’s plans but said of the Balkans: ``It’s clearly an issue that is very important to him.″
Last June, Dole said NATO should conduct air strikes against military installations in Serbia unless Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic halted his attacks in Kosovo and agreed to peace talks.
He said the Clinton administration had been too tolerant of Milosevic’s crackdown on ethnic Albanians.
As the Senate majority leader in 1995, Dole supported President Clinton’s decision to dispatch U.S. troops to Bosnia to help enforce a settlement that ended an ethnic conflict among Serbs, Croats and Muslims in that former Yugoslav republic.
The former Kansas senator and Senate leader also may go to Belgrade to try direct diplomacy on Milosevic and other Serbs.
Meanwhile, leaders of the ethnic Albanians have accepted in principle an administration invitation to attend talks with U.S. officials in Washington.
There is no decision when the talks would be held or which Albanians would come, Foley said. But, he said, ``It is our expectation some will come.″
In Tirana, Albania’s capital, the Kosovo Liberation Army’s Kosova Press announced the delegation. It includes chief negotiator Hashim Thaci and Jakup Krasniqi, Ram Buja, Bashkim Jashari, Ramush Haradinaj, Bislim Zyrapi.
Albright also called Dole last month while holding talks with the two sides in Rambouillet, France, and asked him to intercede with the ethnic Albanians, many of whom seek independence and not just the self-rule promised by the proposed settlement.
Accusing both the Serbs and ethnic Albanians of bloody attacks in recent days, Foley condemned the continuing violence and said the United States is keeping close watch on a buildup of Serbian troops on the Kosovo border.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary William Cohen threatened a NATO response if innocent Kosovars are attacked.
``If the Serbs, by virtue of their heavy armor and their artillery, start to engage in massive assaults upon innocent villagers, that would constitute a violation of the agreement that was negotiated ... back in the fall, and that would prompt an attack by the NATO forces,″ Cohen said.