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The United States insisted Friday that it would make no deal that would allow Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic to escape prosecution for war crimes.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had suggested an arrangement that would take Karadzic out of mainstream political life in Bosnia, but Washington had rejected it.But Burns, at a briefing for reporters, conceded that the "marginalization" of Karadzic and Mladic would be a second-best option if they could not be turned over to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, which has indicted them.

The New York Times quoted unidentified senior Western officials Friday as saying they would probably end up accepting an arrangement under which Karadzic and Mladic continued to wield power in the Bosnian Serb entity.

"The answer from the United States is no deal," Burns said. "The United States will not agree to any deal for Karadzic and Mladic . . . The only deal for them is to be arrested and brought to The Hague for prosecution.

"The United States will not be party, now or in the future, to any set of negotiations that tries to let these two guys off the hook. We want them to go to jail, not pass `Go,' not collect $200," he said, referring to the game of Monopoly.

Burns said Milosevic offered to remove Karadzic from mainstream political life at a meeting in Belgrade earlier this week with U.S. assistant secretary of state John Kornblum but Kornblum replied: "Sorry, it's not good enough for us."

Javier Solana, secretary-general of NATO whose troops lead the Bosnia peace implementation force IFOR, made a similar statement earlier Friday. Burns welcomed that statement.

Under the Dayton peace agreement for Bosnia, Karadzic and Mladic are banned from standing in elections due to be held in Bosnia in September. But their continuation in power has obstructed implementation of the pact, which both oppose.

Burns made clear Washington felt the elections should go ahead even if Karadzic and Mladic were still at large.