Secretary of State Warren Christopher and his fellow foreign ministers said they did not expect immediate results from their new peace plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina. On Saturday, they were proven right.
Bosnian Muslim leaders denounced the proposal from the United States, Russia and the European Union as legitimizing the Serbs' conquests, and they said a proposed four-month cease-fire is too long.
Bosnian Serbs said the cease-fire is too short and showed no sign of embracing the allies' terms for a negotiated settlement.
Even the peace plan's authors said they consider its prospects for success to be slim--at least without military intervention or some other form of direct pressure from the United States and its allies.
"History tells us the chances are probably not great," said a senior U.S. official involved in the negotiations. "Nonetheless, we have to give it a shot."
The problem, he added, is that the United States and its Russian and European allies do not have enough leverage over the Bosnian Serbs to push them into a deal.
"It is something that has always been lacking," he said. "That is very much on our mind."
What the big powers accomplished here last week was to agree on their goals in Bosnia: an early cease-fire, followed by negotiations toward a settlement that divides the country about equally between the Serbs and a Muslim-Croatian federation. After two years of discord, they are finally singing from the same page in the diplomatic hymnbook.
But they are not doing much more than singing, and the Bosnian Serbs have not paid much attention to the outside world's entreaties thus far. If they ignore this new appeal for negotiations, the allies are not quite sure what their next act will be.
The Bosnian Muslim prime minister, Haris Silajdzic, put the dilemma in a nutshell when he spoke to reporters at a champagne reception Christopher hosted at the U.S. mission Saturday to honor the doleful Muslim and Croatian negotiators:
"What if the Serbs don't talk?" he asked. "We could be frozen in the situation we're in. What if they talk and stall? We will be stuck again. What if they reach an agreement and just don't implement it? Where do we go then?"
Silajdzic condemned the plan as a sellout of the Bosnian Muslims' hopes of keeping their country unified--"Munich on television," he said, referring to the diplomatic conference that awarded part of Czechoslovakia to German dictator Adolf Hitler in 1938.
And the Bosnian Muslim president, Alija Izetbegovic, said the four-month cease-fire proposed by the allies is too long.
"We believe two months would be enough if we want to obtain a political settlement," Izetbegovic told reporters in Sarajevo, according to the Reuters news agency.
At the same time, a spokesman for Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said that four months is too short.
"We are in favor of a permanent cessation of hostilities," he said--a formula the Muslims fear would lead to a permanent Serbian occupation of their lands, of which the Serbs have captured 70%.
Still, Silajdzic said he will try to work with the new proposal--especially if the allies back up their unified message with measures to enforce a settlement.
"We are looking for guarantees," he said. "We are looking for commitment from the international community."
What kind of commitment? "Force should be used to implement these agreements," Silajdzic said.
To which the allies replied, in effect: We're not ready for that yet.
"We understand what the prime minister is saying," the U.S. negotiator said, but "we have to give (the peace plan) a chance" without any threats of force.
If that does not work, then the question of using military power to implement or enforce an agreement may arise, he said, but "I can't tell you how it's going to be answered by the political authorities of any of our countries."
President Clinton has repeatedly ruled out the use of U.S. ground troops in Bosnia except as peacekeepers after a settlement is reached. Senior State Department officials said that prohibition still stands.
Russia's chief negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Vitaly S. Churkin, said cheerfully that the way ahead is clear: "Now is the time to tell the parties what to do," he said.
But he acknowledged that the allies have not agreed on how to enforce their desires. Russia has often defended Serbia's interests in the talks, urging the other countries to begin lifting U.N. economic sanctions against Belgrade as an early part of the process.