U.S. Vows to Bolster Bosnia Peace Quest : Balkans: Joint chiefs chairman and ambassador to U.N. visit Sarajevo to discuss more involvement.
Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Wednesday paid the highest-level U.S. visit here since war broke out and pledged greater American involvement in the quest for peace.
While both repeated that U.S. ground troops would be deployed in Bosnia only after all three warring factions agree on a truce, Shalikashvili conceded that the recent reconciliation between Croats and Muslims might lead to eventual Western acceptance of a truncated Bosnia, which American forces could help protect.
“I certainly would not exclude that,” the top U.S. military officer said of the prospect of American intervention to stabilize and rebuild the reunifying remnants of Bosnia.
Aides said privately that Albright and the general came here to evaluate ways of stepping up U.S. involvement in the peace process and talked over means of transferring the current U.N. peacekeeping mission to tighter NATO control.
One source in the general’s delegation said the team came on a fact-finding tour and that he expected to be engaged in explaining to the American public why U.S. forces should be deployed in Bosnia, where a Serbian rebellion against independence two years ago has deteriorated into civil war. Civilians have borne the brunt of the battles, with more than 200,000 dead and 2 million homeless; Serbian nationalists have seized more than 70% of the country.
“The arguments for intervention are all very intellectual, and that’s hard to sell,” the officer said of the balancing act being practiced by the Pentagon in seeking to protect European security and discourage aggressive nationalism while heeding American fears of casualties and being dragged into a Vietnam-style quagmire.
“We’ve been in Europe for a long time in an effort to enhance security,” said the aide. “This is where the insecurity is, so why not be here?”
Shalikashvili made clear after a day of meetings with Bosnian and U.N. military commanders that President Clinton’s precondition of a three-way peace agreement still stands; both he and Albright appealed to the Bosnian Serb rebels to join talks aimed at a negotiated settlement.
But the message repeatedly pounded out to the people of Bosnia was that America is on the case and committed to finding a solution.
Albright visited the site of the future U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo and declared to hundreds of community leaders that “today’s ceremony should demonstrate for all to see that America’s future and your future are inseparable.”
She also announced $10 million in American aid for reconstruction in Sarajevo now that a Serbian artillery bombardment has been halted by threats of air strikes by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In an emotional conclusion, she adapted the words of the late John F. Kennedy when he visited divided Berlin in 1961 by proclaiming, “Ya sam Sarajevka” (I am a Sarajevan).
The American delegation held its longest talks with the U.N. commander for Bosnia, British Gen. Michael Rose, who has been appealing for swift, substantial reinforcement of the 13,000 troops already assigned to Bosnia. “Obviously any deployment from the United States would be an enormous help,” Rose said when asked if he thought he could maintain the recent progress toward peace with the forces now available to him.
More than 1,000 of the Bosnia-based peacekeepers are actually on loan from U.N.-protected areas of Croatia, and a cease-fire signed early Wednesday between Croatian government forces and rebel Serbs is likely to step up the pressure for return of the borrowed soldiers. “If we have to move troops out of here, there is a risk of losing the momentum,” Rose said.