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NATO Summit Ends With Restoration Vow

NATO summit, TWP President Clinton addresses the opening session of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council on Sunday. (Rich Lipski — The Washington Post)

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  • By William Drozdiak and Thomas W. Lippman
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Monday, April 26, 1999; Page A1

    Concluding a three-day summit meeting shadowed by war in the Balkans, NATO leaders vowed yesterday to lead a major reconstruction effort to help restore political and economic stability to southeastern Europe once the Kosovo conflict is resolved.

    On the final day of NATO's 50th anniversary gathering, the 19 allied heads of government met with the leaders of countries neighboring Yugoslavia -- Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania and Slovenia -- and promised to help them cope with damaging fallout from the allied bombing campaign, now in its fifth week.

    The summit brought an unprecedented 42 world leaders to Washington to celebrate the achievements of a military alliance that successfully faced down the Soviet Union and emerged victorious from the Cold War. But it turned out to be a relatively somber affair, with the alliance agenda dominated by the hot war over Kosovo.

    In talks designed to maintain cohesion among the 19 leaders, NATO renewed its determination to pursue and expand the bombing campaign against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's government in Belgrade, while putting off for later a decision whether to dispatch ground troops into Kosovo. At the same time, the alliance governments endorsed Russia's attempt at mediation and shifted their settlement terms slightly to give Moscow more of an opening for diplomacy.

    With Yugoslav forces hunkered down across the embattled Serbian province and neighboring states struggling to cope with Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II, NATO leaders who came here to endorse a blueprint for the next century thus departed with their minds fixed on the next stage of the alliance's first attack on a sovereign nation.

    As NATO leaders headed home, allied warplanes destroyed the last remaining bridge in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia's second-largest city, amid new refugee reports of roaming Serbian gunmen butchering villagers by the dozens. Kosovo refugees reaching Macedonia told relief workers of Serbian paramilitaries entering villages, ordering residents out of their homes and opening fire on them, the Associated Press reported. "It's very alarming," said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

    NATO planes targeted a fuel depot near the central Serbian town of Valjevo, and nine missiles hit an airport in Sombor on the border with Hungary, according to Yugoslav media reports. In addition, Yugoslavia's official Tanjug news agency reported late last night that the Slatina military and civilian airport near Kosovo's capital, Pristina, had been struck.

    In their meetings here, NATO leaders further loosened restrictions on bombing targets -- including those with a greater risk of civilian casualties -- as part of a decision to escalate the campaign in hopes of breaking the will of Milosevic and the Yugoslav armed forces.

    In the 33 days since the campaign began, NATO governments have nearly tripled the assigned aircraft, to more than 1,000 planes. But nearly 400 additional aircraft approved for deployment have been delayed because the space is saturated. According to military sources, Hungary -- the only NATO member that borders Yugoslavia -- has been asked to make available at least two air bases to accommodate about 50 planes. In addition, Turkey has been asked to absorb some of the extra aircraft destined for action in the skies over Yugoslavia.

    With bases in Italy bearing much of the load for the NATO operation, alliance commanders have sought permission from nonmember countries in the region to base NATO aircraft. But the poor condition of airfields in some neighboring states, such as Romania and Bulgaria, have limited the alternatives. The two countries, which are eager to join NATO, have given permission for NATO planes to conduct bombing raids using their airspace, as has Slovenia.

    President Clinton, meanwhile, held a one-hour conversation with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, discussing the next phase in Moscow's negotiating effort. U.S. national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger said, "The fact that the Russians feel driven to find a diplomatic solution can be constructive so long as they understand clearly what our conditions are."

    He said there was "some vagueness" in Clinton's conversation with Yeltsin, but "I did not discern anything in that call that indicated movement on the part of Milosevic."

    "The Russians have to move Milosevic" if their efforts are to be productive, another senior U.S. official said. "They have to take a clear stand on an international military presence" in Kosovo, an alliance demand that Milosevic has rejected.

    Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott left for Moscow last night and will seek clarification of Moscow's position, Berger said.

    In contrast to Russia's hostility to NATO airstrikes, NATO leaders said they were pleasantly surprised by strong endorsement from Yugoslavia's neighbors. A senior U.S. official said countries on the fringe of the conflict, from Slovenia to Uzbekistan, expressed understanding of the need to halt Serb depredations in Kosovo in the interest of European stability and economic development.

    Clinton told Yugoslavia's neighbors that NATO is prepared to offer them protection against any security threats posed by Yugoslav forces. He and other allied leaders also vowed to step up efforts to ease the humanitarian crisis triggered by ethnic Albanian refugees fleeing Kosovo and to assist in the region's recovery from disruptions in trade and investment caused by the conflict.

    When NATO launched its airstrikes March 24, the allies declared that one of their primary goals was to prevent further turmoil for the nascent democracies in southeastern Europe. Yet the bombing campaign has made their situation more precarious.

    Albania, Macedonia and Bosnia are struggling to cope with hundreds of thousands of Kosovo refugees. The looming summer tourist season now looks like a disaster for the resorts of Croatia. Romania, Slovenia and Bulgaria have suffered grave economic hardship caused by destroyed bridges along the Danube River that have interrupted barge traffic.

    "All of these states have suffered hardship and profound difficulties because of the crisis in Kosovo," said NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. "They fully share our resolve to stop aggression by Belgrade. We will not allow the region to be destabilized, and we will ensure their security."

    Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov, who seeks to bring his country into the alliance and has allowed allied warplanes use of Bulgarian airspace, blamed Milosevic for a decade of war in the Balkans that has crippled economic development throughout the region.

    "This has been a disaster for the Balkans for eight years now," Stoyanov said in an interview. "Due to Milosevic, my country was destabilized long ago."

    Romanian President Emil Constantinescu said there are "multiple risks" to his country flowing from the war in Kosovo, including economic disruption and the country's proximity to Yugoslavia.

    Constantinescu said he "received assurances regarding the undertaking of responsibility by NATO for stability in the region, guaranteeing the inviolability of borders and the sovereignty of countries in the region." At Germany's insistence, he said, the United States, France and Britain agreed to a summit conference in Bonn next month to discuss reconstruction of southeastern Europe.

    German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the conference would seek to establish a Marshall Plan for the Balkans, which other European officials said would seek to raise as much as $30 billion over five years.

    For Albania and Macedonia, the two front-line states most seriously affected by the Kosovo crisis, NATO's response has provoked divergent reactions. While Albania sees the crisis as an opportunity to solidify ties with the Western alliance, Macedonia fears that its fragile politics could be destabilized by ethnic tensions in the wake of the refugee influx and the possibility of a ground war launched from its territory.

    Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov expressed deep disappointment that his country has been "put in last place" for NATO membership and said his country's contributions to the crisis in Kosovo are not adequately recognized in the final summit communique.

    On the other hand, Petrit Bushati, Albania's ambassador to Washington, noted that President Rexhep Mejdani reaffirmed Albania's willingness to allow NATO to use Albanian soil for any military purposes deemed necessary to defeat Milosevic. "This is a very courageous act of Albania," he said, "and it was well noted at the summit."

    Staff writers Charles Babington, William Claiborne, Bradley Graham, Vernon Loeb, Dana Priest and Edward Walsh contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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