The United States turned to Mideast-style shuttle diplomacy Saturday in an effort to get warring groups in Bosnia to accept a peace plan that apparently marks the end of a U.S. "lift and strike" initiative designed to help Muslims fend off Serbian assaults.
U.S. diplomat Charles E. Redman, who has long experience in dealing with both sides, completed initial talks with the Muslims in Sarajevo, shuttled to Pale to confer with Bosnian Serb leaders and then returned to the Bosnian capital.Administration officials said the Muslims appeared receptive and that while the Serb position was more guarded, the job of selling the plan - which would begin with a cease-fire in war-ravaged northwestern Bosnia - was off to a good start.
Insisting there was no change in the overall goal - getting Serbs, Muslims and Croats to the bargaining table - the official, who demanded anonymity, did not chal-lenge the conclusion that the strategy of trying to lift the arms embargo to help the Muslims and to strike at Serb positions with NATO warplanes appears to be dead.
Foreign Ministers Alain Juppe of France and Douglas Hurd of Britain on Sunday take up their mission: soliciting the help in Belgrade of Serbian President Slo-bo-dan Milosevic.
The "lift and strike" strategy grew out of President Clinton's pledge during his run for the White House in 1992 to assist the Muslims. The United States would ask the U.N. Security Council to exempt them from an arms embargo in order to "level the playing field" with the well-supplied Serbs.
And NATO warplanes would strike at Serb artillery to ease pressure on Sarajevo and other areas designated as "safe areas" by the Security Council to protect terrified civilians.
France, Britain and Russia derailed the U.S. policy with the argument that an infusion of more weapons would lead to greater bloodshed and that their peacekeepers could be caught in the cross-fire.
The Serbs underscored the argument by detaining some 500 peacekeepers, and, confident that the European argument would prevail, the Serbs pushed on while NATO engaged only in limited airstrikes.
Congress has warned that it may try to order Clinton to lift the arms embargo without U.N. approval, but two-thirds of the Senate and House would have to support the move to overcome a likely Clinton veto.
Christopher defended the decision to go ahead with the peace plan, which was based on a blueprint the Serbs have rejected repeatedly since it was first proposed in July. He said the alternatives were unacceptable.
"What we seek here is peace, not the reign of terror that would come through carpet bombing," he said. "No military expert that I know of in the United States believes that bombing could bring this tragic struggle to a conclusion, especially considering the terrain of the land there."
Within the administration, U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright was the last advocate of the continued use of force against the Serbs.
But Defense Secretary William Perry and other senior Clinton advisers wanted to shift to a softer approach, and the idea was approved at a meeting Monday at the White House.
Then, at a meeting in Brussels on Friday with the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Russia, Christopher formally swung over to their view.
On Saturday, Christopher concentrated on expanding the 45-year NATO alliance.
At a meeting with the foreign ministers of 11 European countries that could join the alliance, Christopher said it was important to assure Russia that taking in former allies in Central and Eastern Europe was not a threat to Moscow.
The North Atlantic Council approved a yearlong study of Thursday of the financial and other implications of going beyond its 16 nations. No timetable was adopted for expansion. Candidates are expected to advise NATO of their intentions a year from now.
"We think this is an appropriate way to go further in a very stable, peaceful, thoughtful way," said Foreign Minister Yuri Luik of Estonia, replying for the group.