No Easy Answer to Bosnia Crisis, Bush Stresses
Expressing a new optimism that the crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina is easing, President Bush said Saturday that there can be no military quick fix for the complex conflict.
In his third press conference in as many days devoted to the situation in the former Yugoslav republics, Bush emphasized the constraints that limit Western intervention and seemed to gloss over the atrocity stories that have fueled a growing public demand for action to stop Serbian aggression.
“I am pleased with the first indication from those controlling the detention camps that access would be given to the International Red Cross,” Bush said. “I’m pleased that the Sarajevo airport is open once again and that relief flights are able to go in.”
He was responding to an announcement from the International Committee of the Red Cross that it has been granted access to camps in Bosnia, although there is evidence that many prisoners have been moved out of suspected ethnic concentration camps.
Bush summoned his top foreign-policy strategists to his seaside compound to review the options for U.S. and U.N. action to end the bloodshed in Bosnia and other areas of what used to be Yugoslavia. But if they reached any conclusions, Bush kept them a secret during the brief press conference.
Apparently determined to emphasize the businesslike nature of the meeting, Bush and his aides--Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger and deputy U.N. representative Alexander Watson--emerged from Bush’s house in coats and ties, a contrast to the usual casual atmosphere at the Maine compound.
Nevertheless, Bush heatedly denied that his preoccupation with Bosnia was dictated by partisan politics. Democratic challenger Bill Clinton has called for the use of U.S. and allied air power to break Serbian pressure on Bosnia’s Slavic Muslim and Croatian communities.
He said he was determined to do “what’s right and not be influenced by political criticism, political sniping or political constructive suggestions.”
A senior White House official said after the press conference that Clinton has accepted the Administration’s offer of detailed briefings on the Yugoslav situation.
Although he did not mention her by name, Bush flatly rejected a call from former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for firmer Western action.
In an interview with CNN, Thatcher called on Bush to give Serbian forces “an ultimatum” that unless the killing stops promptly, the United States and its NATO allies will launch massive air strikes on Serbian positions in Bosnia. Thatcher also urged Bush to ask the United Nations to permit the shipment of arms to the Bosnian government. A U.N. embargo on weapons shipments to all of the former Yugoslav republics has hit far harder at the Bosnian government than at Serbian forces who have been able to call on the arsenal of the Yugoslav federal army.
Two years ago, Bush vowed to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait so soon after a meeting with Thatcher that critics said the British leader had given the President “a backbone transplant.” But this time Bush adopted a cautious tone.
“I’m not certain that air strikes themselves would solve the problem,” he said. “Nor am I certain that putting ground forces into this situation, as it stands now, would solve the problem.”
As for lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia, a government with which the President has announced full diplomatic relations, Bush said, “I don’t think the area needs more arms; I think it needs less arms.”
Bush repeatedly stressed the complicated nature of the Balkans conflict, which is inflamed with centuries-old animosities and is being fought over a terrain that inhibits the sort of military power that Washington and its allies used to win the Persian Gulf War.
“This is a highly complex problem with all kinds of ethnic problems in there, all kinds of ancient rivalries,” Bush said. “And our goal is to help solve the humanitarian problems. . . . There isn’t an easy formula. If there was, we would have put it into effect before now.”
Bush arrived in Kennebunkport on Friday night for a long weekend. Although he took a brief spin in his powerful motorboat and dined at a local restaurant, the President has tried to avoid the appearance of vacation. He plans to confer Monday and Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Apparently responding to complaints by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali that the West is ignoring widespread starvation in Somalia while concentrating on the “rich man’s war” in Yugoslavia, Bush commented, “We are grieved by the bloodshed in Somalia.” He did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, the State Department announced that two U.S. mercenaries, Colton Perry, 25, of Portsmouth, Va., and Marin Pesa, 22, of Livingston, N.J., were released Saturday and turned over to the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.
The pair, captured by Serbian forces in March while they were fighting on the Croatian side in Bosnia, were released as a result of the intercession of Milan Panic, a U.S. citizen who holds the post of prime minister of the abbreviated Yugoslav federation, now made up only of Serbia and its tiny ally, Montenegro.