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  •   Indictment of Milosevic Could Hinder Settlement

    By Steven Mufson
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, May 27, 1999; Page A35

    The expected indictment of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic raised an awkward question yesterday for NATO diplomats pursuing a political settlement to the war in Kosovo: How do you make peace with a man accused of being a war criminal?

    Senior diplomats from NATO countries said reports from the Hague that Milosevic is about to be indicted for war crimes will further isolate the Yugoslav leader and justify the two-month-old air war in the eyes of the public. But some diplomats said the indictment also could make it more difficult to reach a settlement with Milosevic and raise the stakes on defeat for him.

    A senior Clinton administration official said the indictment will not complicate the search for a political settlement or preclude future talks with Belgrade. He said Milosevic can still signal agreement to NATO terms without face-to-face meetings with NATO officials because former Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin is serving as intermediary.

    "We do not intend to negotiate NATO's conditions," he said. "Milosevic and the people in Belgrade know what they have to do. But we are not going to rule out future contacts in Belgrade if they are necessary to achieve our objectives or advance our national interests."

    The official added, "We've already said he's politically and personally responsible for what has gone on in Kosovo, and what has gone on are war crimes and genocidal acts. Now that is compounded by criminal responsibility. That's not a huge change."

    Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said yesterday the tribunal should "follow out the evidence that it has and let the judicial process work."

    As recently as three weeks ago, some senior Clinton administration officials were divided over whether it would be better if the Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia waited until after the conflict before indicting Milosevic. Some argued that it would be better to wait until after securing Belgrade's agreement to an international military force in Kosovo, and then hope that Serb popular opinion would force Milosevic from power.

    But many European allies have been more eager to see a war crimes case brought against Milosevic. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said last week that Britain shared unusually sensitive intelligence information with the war crimes tribunal to that end.

    Sources said French President Jacques Chirac feels personal enmity toward Milosevic dating to clashes in Bosnia in 1995 that resulted in several French casualties.

    "There is no need to shake hands with 'Hitler,' which is Milosevic. That would be difficult after the demonization of Milosevic," a European diplomat said this week. Another European diplomat said, "if someone wants to shake hands with Milosevic, it can be Chernomyrdin." He added that Milosevic has been directly or indirectly responsible for about 200,000 deaths over the past several years.

    "Enough is enough," he said.

    "Milosevic is an irrational man," Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek said in a recent interview. "So one cannot count on the rational behavior of Milosevic. One must count on the rational behavior of the Serb people."

    Members of Congress welcomed word of the indictment and some sharpened their criticism of the war so far.

    "I have always thought he should be indicted. I think he is one of the worst war criminals to appear on the scene for many years," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a presidential candidate. "I never thought we should negotiate with him anyway. We should beat him and then it wouldn't matter."

    But NATO countries do not want to turn the conflict into a war on Belgrade. While saying that toppling Milosevic is desirable, it is not one of NATO's war objectives.

    "As a foreign minister, one can't be too precious about the people you talk to," Cook said last Friday after consulting with top Clinton administration officials. "That's a prerequisite for the job."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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