Jimmy Carter met Radovan Karadzic in his headquarters village Monday, hoping to persuade the Bosnian Serb leader to sign onto a peace plan his people have repeatedly rejected.

Carter's initial comments were conciliatory. The former president arrived in Bosnia on Sunday on a mission that has confounded every other diplomat.Karadzic spoke of traditional Serb-American friendship forged in two world wars this century and a Serb feeling that their reputation has suffered because of unfair media coverage.

"It may be that today is one of the rare chances to let the world know the truth and explain the commitment of the Serbs to peace," Carter responded.

"I cannot dispute your statement that the American people have heard primarily one side of the story."

The White House took issue Monday with Carter's remarks.

Carter, trying to get the Serbs to sign a peace plan, spoke sympathetically of Serb feelings that their reputation has suffered because of unfair media coverage.

Without directly criticizing Carter, press secretary Dee Dee Myers suggested the White House has a different view.

"I would say only that I think we've been pretty clear about who we think the aggressor is - the Bosnian Serbs are the aggressors in this war," Myers told reporters. "The American people have had two years to see what's happening on the ground there and to see both sides of the story."

Carter's self-assigned task was not an easy one - persuading the Serbs, who have dominated the 21/2-year war militarily, to back a plan that cuts their holdings from more than 70 percent to 49 percent of Bosnia.

So far, Carter has had a mixed welcome.

Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, were greeted with large floral wreaths, smiles and handshakes when they arrived in Pale, nine miles southeast of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. They were to return to Sarajevo later in the day.

But as the couple entered Sarajevo on Sunday, French anti-sniper patrols traded fire with Serbs in one of their heavier exchanges recently. High levels of gun- and rocket-propelled grenade fire were reported, and two French peacekeepers and a civilian were wounded.

U.N. spokeswoman Claire Grimes said Monday that fighting continued around the northwest Bosnian town of Velika Kladusa, which fell over the weekend to the renegade Muslim forces of Fikret Abdic.

Abdic has sided with Bosnian and Croatian Serbs in the fighting that has torn apart the region.

Grimes said U.N. personnel in the town were confined in their quarters, but U.N. observers had seen many refugees fleeing Velika Kladusa south toward the government-controlled area of Bihac.