U.S. mediators plan to hold Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic under the diplomatic equivalent of house arrest until they reach agreement on a plan for ending Bosnia's bloody ethnic war, officials said Thursday.
U.S. peace envoy Richard Holbrooke said Milosevic and Izetbegovic, scheduled to attend the talks in the United States starting Oct. 31, have "both agreed not to threaten to leave and not to issue time ultimatums" during the negotiations, which could last months.
Holbrooke made it clear that Washington intends to exert maximum political pressure to hold the presidents to their promise to keep negotiating until the job is done.
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman plans to attend the start of the conference but may not stay for the duration if the talks turn to the nitty-gritty of Bosnia-Herzegovina's territorial and constitutional issues, which do not have a direct impact on Croatia, Holbrooke told a news conference.
Although the Clinton Administration has not yet announced where the talks will take place, Holbrooke said the mediators are looking for a secluded site on the East Coast with "separate but equal villas" capable of housing three Balkan delegations plus U.S., European Union and Russian go-betweens. The most likely location is a military base with a guarded perimeter that would keep the press out and the delegations in.
At least at the start, the delegations will be kept separate, with Holbrooke and his fellow mediators, EU envoy Carl Bildt and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, shuttling between the villas. But U.S. officials hope that the warring factions will agree to face-to-face talks later in the process.
Former President Jimmy Carter pioneered that technique during the 1978 Camp David conference when he sequestered Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat at the presidential retreat until they reached agreement. Although it is now known that both men threatened to pack up and go home when the negotiations seemed to stall, Carter pressed them to stay.
One Begin aide later quipped that he spent his spare time digging an escape tunnel that he would use if the talks dragged on indefinitely.
Holbrooke said he expects the negotiations to continue even if the cease-fire is violated and new atrocities are uncovered. Continuing bloodshed makes a peace agreement all the more urgent, he said.
Nevertheless, the Administration has invested a lot of its prestige in the shaky cease-fire.
State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Wednesday that the truce has a better chance of succeeding than the 35 that preceded it because "we have put our credibility, our influence, our diplomatic emphasis into this particular cease-fire."
Holbrooke said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization retains the option of responding to cease-fire violations with bombing strikes, but he acknowledged that, if the parties choose to continue fighting, "in certain parts of the country it would be hard to stop them."
At the bargaining table, Izetbegovic represents the Muslim-Croatian federation and Milosevic represents the Bosnian Serbs. Holbrooke said if the Bosnian Serbs, headquartered in Pale, revoke the agreement to let the Serbian president negotiate on their behalf, the talks will break down and the war will resume.
"The loser will be Pale, which is getting increasingly weaker anyway," Holbrooke said.
Meanwhile, the Administration announced that Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Undersecretary of Defense Walter B. Slocombe will travel to Moscow this weekend to negotiate the rules under which Russian forces would participate in a NATO-led force to police any peace agreement.
Russian Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev has said that his country is ready to send a full division--about 20,000 troops--to Bosnia. But the United States and its allies have no intention of giving Moscow that big a piece of the action.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said that NATO has established procedures and that "including forces that don't have that background and training presents an element of complication."
In addition, he said, if the Russians sent a full division it would "suggest there will be a sector of the country that would be the Russian sector . . . [and] we're not trying to divvy the country up the way Berlin was divvied up."
Bacon said the key components of the force will be one division each from the United States, Britain and France, reinforced by smaller units from other countries.
Unlike the United Nations force now in Bosnia, Bacon said, the NATO-led troops will not deliver humanitarian aid, assist refugees or try to rebuild the country's damaged infrastructure.
Those tasks, he said, fall outside the military rules of engagement for the NATO troops.