The Group of Seven leading industrial democracies and Russia neared agreement today on a draft U.N. Security Council resolution on the Kosovo crisis, reviving prospects that a peace settlement could bring the 76-day-old conflict to a halt this week.
The meeting took place here as Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, the European Union envoy on Kosovo, reported that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had reaffirmed his commitment to a peace plan he accepted last week. That plan calls for all Yugoslav forces to withdraw from Kosovo and refugees to return under supervision of international peacekeepers. Talks between NATO and Yugoslav military officers on procedures for the withdrawal reached an impasse over the weekend when the Yugoslavs raised last-minute objections.
In Russia, meanwhile, Yugoslav Ambassador Borislav Milosevic, the president's brother, asserted that the military talks would resume and that Belgrade government security forces would indeed pull out of Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic.
The central stumbling block in the talks both in Bonn and between NATO and Yugoslav military officials has been fixing the sequence of four key events: the start of a Yugoslav military pullout from Kosovo; a pause in NATO's 11-week-old bombing campaign; adoption of a U.N. resolution that encompasses the peace plan; and the entry into Kosovo of an international peacekeeping force with a substantial NATO component. Western officials said there was some progress here today on setting a timetable for the events.
During eight hours of talks here, foreign ministers representing the eight powers whittled down Russia's objections to the original plan from 20 to just two and nearly completed a five-page draft U.N. resolution that would sanction deployment of the peacekeeping force in Kosovo as Yugoslav army and Serbian police forces pull out.
"When we began, we had a great deal of dissent," said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who added that in the end the ministers had been able "to make progress in a constructive way." British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that while Russia had been accommodated on the language of the text of the resolution, there had been no compromise on its substance and no substantive change from the peace plan the Belgrade government accepted last week.
The talks will resume Tuesday, allowing Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov time to consult with his government on questions of whether, and how, the U.N. resolution would mention the U.N.-sponsored international war crimes tribunal -- which has indicted Milosevic on war crimes charges -- and on the command structure of the force that would occupy Kosovo after Serb-led forces withdraw. In a telephone conversation with President Clinton today, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said he would press Ivanov to resolve the remaining points, U.S. officials said.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was optimistic that the text of the resolution could be finalized by Wednesday, and he said the Security Council could adopt it within 24 hours.
"We should then move on with the troops," Annan said.
Ahtisaari, who attended part of today's meeting, said that he had called Milosevic after talks between Yugoslav and NATO officers broke down Sunday and that the Yugoslav leader had reasserted his commitment to the original peace plan. The Finnish leader then departed for Beijing, where he was to brief Chinese leaders on peace efforts. As a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, China's support is critical to end to the conflict.
Even as diplomatic efforts continued at a furious pace, NATO resumed heavy airstrikes today against Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. NATO's supreme commander, Gen. Wesley K. Clark, ordered allied warplanes to step up the pace of raids just hours after the talks collapsed Sunday, alliance officials said. The attacks had been scaled back late last week when Milosevic accepted the peace plan.
Yugoslav military leaders fear that a quick withdrawal of their forces from Kosovo could create a "security vacuum" that would put Serbs living in the province in danger of retaliation by separatist guerrillas or other members of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority -- most of whom have been driven from their homes and lands by Yugoslav and Serbian forces. Before the conflict began, nearly 2 million people lived in Kosovo and ethnic Albanians outnumbered Serbs 9 to 1 there; since late March, more than 800,000 Kosovo Albanians have fled to neighboring countries, while as many as half-million have been displaced within the province.
The international peacekeepers could fill that vacuum by moving in behind the departing Serbs, but arranging such a quick intervention poses diplomatic dilemmas. Moscow and Belgrade want a U.N. resolution to authorize the peacekeeping force, and together with China they want the U.N. resolution to be adopted only after NATO stops its bombing of Yugoslavia. NATO, however, wants to keep bombing until troops and police begin a "visible and verifiable" withdrawal from Kosovo.
To resolve the timing issue, U.S. officials and Western diplomats said they are trying to move forward on all four substantive matters, hoping to "synchronize" the events instead of putting them in sequence. "Synchronization is the word of the day," said State Department spokesman James P. Rubin.
Under one scenario, the foreign ministers' talks here on a U.N. resolution would be completed simultaneously Tuesday with those of the NATO and Yugoslav military officers on troop withdrawals. The resolution text would go to the U.N. Tuesday afternoon, and the troop pullout would begin, possibly followed quickly by deployment of some NATO forces in Kosovo.
While language on the U.N. resolution would be locked in, the vote by the Security Council would be delayed for a day or two until NATO could confirm withdrawal of enough troops to justify stopping the bombing. Then the Security Council would vote on the resolution. "Hopefully, all this could happen, if things go right, in a 24- to 48-hour period," said a Clinton administration official.
The talks in Bonn today began on a gloomy note, when Ivanov raised 20 objections to a draft resolution of only 33 paragraphs.
But as the day wore on, most of the issues fell away. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine suggested getting around the issue of whether a bombing halt would precede a U.N. resolution by working out the draft text but postponing the Security Council vote until the troop withdrawals were confirmed.
Rubin said that three tracks -- the U.N. resolution, the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces and the bombing suspension -- "can be done . . . at roughly the same time."
The key unresolved issues left at the end of the day included a reference to the U.N. war crimes tribunal. The United States wants the resolution to say at least once that U.N. member countries are responsible for cooperating with the tribunal, which has indicted Milosevic in connection with his alleged complicity in atrocities committed by government forces against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
But the resolution would probably not require the international force to apprehend alleged war criminals. "I don't expect too many commanders or Milosevic to be sticking around after all Serb forces have left," said a Clinton administration official, arguing that the issue was moot.
The command structure of the international security force remains under discussion. NATO wants the force to have its own command structure, with "NATO at its core," separate from the United Nations. It is still unclear how Russia would fit into the command structure.
Diplomatic sources here said the draft language states that the United Nations would authorize "member states and relevant international organizations to establish international security operations" in Kosovo. Such a force would submit reports to the Security Council but would not be under U.N. command.
A third disputed point regards whether the resolution would fall under Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter and thus not require Belgrade's approval. NATO has insisted on a Chapter Seven resolution, which provides for a "robust" peacekeeping force that does not require the approval of the host government. Western diplomats said they doubt Russia would oppose this in the end.
In the military talks with NATO generals in Macedonia this weekend, the Yugoslav officers apparently sought to maintain "peacetime" levels of forces in Kosovo, which would mean between 10,000 and 15,000 troops would remain in Kosovo at least for some time. NATO insists that all forces must pull out and that at a later date a few hundred Yugoslav troops would be allowed back. A Clinton administration official, however, said the Yugoslav government had since reiterated its commitment to pull out all forces.
On another dispute, the United States and other allied governments have said they might be willing to give the Yugoslav forces 10 days, rather than the seven originally planned, to complete the withdrawal.
Correspondent William Drozdiak in Brussels and staff writer Charles Babington in Washington contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, and her counterparts, Joschka Fischer of Germany, center, and Igor Ivanov of Russia, brief reporters.