U.N. Chief Urges NATO to Approve Bosnia Air Strikes : Balkans: Earlier, Clinton avoided the issue, saying that the Sarajevo shelling should spur peace talks. It is unknown when the Western allies’ council will meet.


U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali urged NATO on Sunday to authorize air strikes on artillery positions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, hours after President Clinton sidestepped pressure to undertake military retaliation for the shelling that killed 68 people in a Sarajevo marketplace.

A senior U.N. official said Boutros-Ghali had sent a letter to Manfred Woerner, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, asking the NATO Council to approve “the launching of air strikes against artillery positions in and around Sarajevo, which are responsible for attacks on civilian targets.”

There was no word on when the NATO Council, made up of the foreign ministers of the 16 member nations, would meet to consider the request.

Clinton, who said the shelling Saturday should spur the warring Muslims, Serbs and Croats to the peace table, cautioned that NATO must grant its approval before any such air operations could begin.

Clinton held a rare Sunday meeting with senior members of his national security team. He said afterward that the failure of peace talks would reinforce a U.S. proposal to lift the embargo on the shipment of arms to the Bosnian Muslims.


Clinton’s remarks made clear his aversion to using air power to still the fighting in Bosnia, despite an assurance from Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) that there is “strong bipartisan support” in the Senate for such a course.

Calling on the President to take the lead in shaping an allied response to the attack, Dole said in an interview, “what it cries out for is leadership--American leadership.”

Responding with irritation to the pressure for air strikes, Clinton said, “It’s very well for these members of Congress to say that--they don’t have constituents on the ground.”

Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on CNN after the emergency meeting at the White House that “we are working at the highest level” with NATO allies on the question of conducting air strikes.

Under a U.N. Security Council resolution, Boutros-Ghali has the right to order air strikes to protect Sarajevo’s civilian population. But he said at a news conference last week that it was pointless for him to order air strikes unless the NATO Council agreed to carry them out.

In his letter to Woerner, dispatched Sunday night, he asked for that approval “as soon as possible,” the U.N. source said.

“He has not called on the (NATO) Southern Command to start bombing” but only to have the option of doing so, another U.N. official said late Sunday evening.

NATO voted in August to provide air strikes on Serbian troops ringing Sarajevo if the United Nations requested them. NATO leaders toughened their stance last month but had been waiting for Boutros-Ghali’s request.

In recent weeks, Boutros-Ghali’s aides have resented insinuations that he is the main stumbling block to the use of air power in Bosnia. With the letter, he was evidently trying to make clear his readiness to order strikes if the United States and other NATO members would carry them out.

In the aftermath of Saturday’s attack and others that preceded it, U.S. officials have emphasized that one of the obstacles to carrying out air raids is determining who is responsible for the shelling.

The President asked Albright to accelerate the U.N. effort to determine responsibility for the shelling.

“Obviously, it seems highly likely that the Serbs are responsible,” he said.

But U.S. officials have said that because the allied intelligence-gathering apparatus in Bosnia is so limited, it is difficult to tell which forces actually did the shelling Saturday--Serb-backed artillery or Muslim or Croatian forces.

At the end of a weekend conference on security issues in Munich, Germany, William J. Perry, the new U.S. defense secretary, said participating defense ministers considered “powerful countervailing arguments” about whether to launch air strikes or to take “other strong action.”

He said officials need to determine what the objective of such missions would be and what they would accomplish.

But, he said, television pictures of the aftermath of the attack were “just horrifying” and brought “pressure to bear for more action.”

So far, U.S. action has been limited to the dispatch of Air Force cargo planes to help ferry Sarajevo’s wounded to hospitals in Germany and Italy.

Clinton met in the White House map room for 30 to 40 minutes Sunday with Albright, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, Undersecretary of Defense John M. Deutch and White House Chief of Staff Thomas (Mack) McLarty.

After directing his national security team to meet again today without him, he left for Houston, where he is to begin a three-day speaking tour through the South.

Perry, speaking with reporters after the Munich meeting, said the principle option available to the United States is to “try to accelerate the peace negotiations.”

Cautioning against a “spasmodic reaction"--an emotional response that is not thought out--Perry said, “It would be compounding the tragedy if we did not use this as an opportunity to drive everyone back to the peace table.”

Clinton, speaking with reporters as he left the White House for his trip to Texas, said some nations are refusing to support any air strikes because they fear their peacekeeping troops in Bosnia would be subject to retaliation. Among those that have raised objections are Canada and Britain, whose troops are among the 28,000 lightly armed peacekeepers there.

“That does not mean it won’t happen. We’re discussing it with our allies,” the President said.

Expressing the hope that the shelling would bring the warring sides to peace talks, Clinton said, “I hope that the shock of these deaths will reinforce to them as to the rest of the world that they ought to go on and reach a settlement.”

The pressure on Clinton to press NATO to approve air strikes is coming from both Democrats and Republicans.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on CNN, “We have the technical capability to go in there with air power, supplemented by a very limited number of people on the ground to direct those bombs to where we want them to hit.”

Dole said that simply lifting the embargo on arms shipments to the Muslims “would send a strong signal” to the Serbs’ backers in Belgrade, the capital of what remains of Yugoslavia.

Air strikes, he said, “could probably take out most of the artillery,” restoring a military balance that would bring the three sides to negotiations.

Times staff writers Stanley Meisler in Washington, Art Pine in Munich and Paul Richter in Houston contributed to this report.