Secretary of State Warren Christopher, looking for a bright spot in circumstances he admitted are only getting worse, said Monday that the rejection by Bosnian Serbs of an international peace plan may create "new opportunities" for diplomacy in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Talking to reporters after the reported outcome of a Bosnian Serb referendum seemed to crush any lingering hopes for a negotiated solution to the bloody factional war, Christopher said he will talk to other foreign ministers by telephone and, perhaps, in person to seek an international consensus on measures to stop the conflict and punish "ethnic cleansing."
He said the vote, which Washington had discounted from the start, "enables us to have a new round of conversations with our allies, some of whom have been wanting to hold up until after the referendum."
But Christopher conceded that the United States and its allies in Europe and Russia are far apart in their views. And State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Clinton Administration's own approach--apparently decided late last month--is again subject to "high-level conversations within the U.S. government."
For now, Washington's preferred approach is to dispatch U.N. monitors to the border between Serbia and Serb-controlled areas of Bosnia to determine if Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is keeping his promise to stop sending weapons, ammunition and other supplies to the Bosnian Serbs. Representatives of the United States, Britain, France and Russia met Monday in New York to try to hammer out the details of a monitoring plan.
But Boucher said Milosevic apparently has rebuffed requests to place monitors on his side of the border. And it seems most unlikely that the Bosnian Serbs would permit U.N. troops on their side.
Nevertheless, Christopher said he sees "new opportunities with the apparent attitude of Milosevic with respect to the border between Serbia and Bosnia. There are also other new opportunities that will arise now that we have the matter clarified."
He did not hint at what the opportunities might be. Other officials said Washington's options are severely limited.
So far, European countries favor creation of internationally protected "safe areas" where Bosnian Muslims could escape from their Serbian and Croatian enemies. A senior Administration official said Washington has no interest in such a plan.
After an internal debate last month, Clinton approved a U.S. policy calling for allied air strikes on Serbian artillery and other military positions combined with shipment of arms to the Muslim-led Bosnian government.
But the Europeans are adamantly opposed to relaxing the arms embargo, unwilling to use their own warplanes to bomb Serbian positions and reluctant--but probably willing--to endorse U.S. air strikes.
Christopher said that all options, including military measures, "are still on the table."
In addition to a Washington meeting with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe next Monday, a State Department official said Christopher may meet in Washington, or perhaps New York, with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev and perhaps some Western European foreign ministers.
Kozyrev, now on a visit to the war-torn region, announced plans to be in New York on Friday for a foreign ministers meeting of the U.N. Security Council to consider international peacekeeping policy in general. But Boucher said the United States opposes holding such a meeting at this time because overall peacekeeping plans would surely be overshadowed by the Bosnian crisis. Without U.S. approval, the meeting is unlikely to take place.
Times staff writer Doyle McManus contributed to this report.