The United States, Russia and the European Union on Friday launched a new effort to end the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, calling on the factions there to agree to a four-month cease-fire and a 51%-49% split of the republic's territory.
Setting out for the first time an agreed-on statement of the peace terms they will seek, the big powers also said they will begin lifting U.N. economic sanctions on Serbia, the Bosnian Serbs' chief ally, once a Bosnian settlement is being implemented.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher, speaking after a six-hour meeting with the foreign ministers of Russia and five Western European countries, said the governments are all determined "to try to put this awful war to an end."
Christopher said they were summoning Bosnian Serb, Croatian and Muslim negotiators to talks within two weeks to begin working on details of a cease-fire and a new round of peace negotiations.
The statement--signed by the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Greece and the European Union--marked the first time in more than two years of attempts to end the Bosnian war that the major powers have agreed on so detailed a framework for a settlement.
But after two years of diplomatic failures, both American and European officials concluded that they could only succeed if they buried their differences--and brought in Russia, which has acted as a great-power protector of its longtime allies, the Serbs.
Until now, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said, "there (have been) divisions . . . among those who have been seeking to achieve a negotiated peace--divisions across the Atlantic between Europe and the United States, divisions between the West and Russia, divisions between NATO and the U.N. The main purpose of this meeting has been to create and sustain a united diplomacy."
To that end, the foreign ministers produced a three-page statement that emphasized their determination to convene peace talks, spelled out basic terms for a settlement, artfully glossed over some of the issues that have divided them in the past and did not say what they would do if any of the Bosnian factions failed to respond.
Their statement calls for a settlement that divides Bosnia into two republics--one Serbian, one a Muslim-Croatian federation--with an undefined constitutional link. It would give the Bosnian Serbs 49% of the republic, leaving 51% for the Muslims and Croats. The Bosnian Serbs now hold about 70% of Bosnia.
Russia for the first time endorsed those percentages, which Bosnian Serbs have rejected, diplomats said. The Muslims and Croats have accepted the 51% figure, although they have said they believe that they are entitled to more and have been negotiating over which land they should receive.
The offer to begin lifting sanctions on Serbia once a peace agreement is in effect was an apparent concession by the United States, which had earlier resisted holding out such a carrot to Belgrade without more conditions. Russia and some European governments had argued that offering to lift some sanctions as soon as a peace agreement was signed would induce the Serbs to be more flexible.
"Good-faith implementation of a peace settlement that includes provisions for withdrawal to agreed territorial limits will lead to phased suspension of the sanctions," the statement said.
Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev praised the statement's "clear link between the peace process and a removal of sanctions," and he suggested that it would appeal to the Serbs.
A senior American official said the Clinton Administration had not changed its harder-line position of demanding significant territorial withdrawals and cooperation with war crimes tribunals before the sanctions could be lifted. But he acknowledged that those conditions were left out of Friday's statement--to ensure that agreement could be reached.
Christopher and the other foreign ministers said they do not know whether their new approach will work.
"It may not succeed," Hurd said. "But we all felt that we had to make that effort . . . because the prospects for the future are dangerous."
Christopher said he believes that the Bosnian Serbs and other factions will come to the new peace talks. "We think that they must recognize, as does the entire world, the need for a negotiated settlement," he said.
There was no immediate reaction from the Bosnian Serbs or the Muslim-led government. But American officials said they had already outlined the allied plan to the Sarajevo government, which approved. A senior U.S. official said that if the parties respond, a formal "cessation of hostilities," including a cease-fire and withdrawal of forces from the front lines, could be in place within six weeks.
The foreign ministers called for a four-month cessation of hostilities because the Bosnian government feared that a permanent cease-fire would freeze the territorial lines where they are, in effect giving the Serbs control over the 70% of Bosnia they hold.
If the Bosnian Serbs and Muslims don't cooperate, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned, his country may pull out of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Bosnia--a move that could cause the entire force to collapse.
And if the Bosnian Serbs don't respond, Christopher said, the Administration will feel more pressure from Congress to lift the U.N. arms embargo against Bosnia. The Senate passed a resolution Thursday giving President Clinton a mixed message about breaking the embargo, a step Clinton has refused to take.