Leaders of Bosnia’s Warring Factions Arrive in U.S. : Balkans: At the outset of talks in Dayton, Ohio, Clinton seeks support for American peacekeeping force.


Negotiators for the warring factions in Bosnia-Herzegovina arrived in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday for U.S.-brokered peace talks as President Clinton stepped up efforts to make the case for U.S. participation in a peacekeeping force if an accord is reached.

In a 10-minute television address aimed as much at Congress as the American public, Clinton said the talks--which begin today at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base--represent the best chance for peace any time soon and that the United States must exert leadership for the effort to succeed.

Repeating a pledge that he has made several times in the past few weeks, the President promised to consult closely with a skeptical Congress and to seek an “expression of support” from lawmakers on deployment of U.S. ground troops for peacekeeping duties.

But he reiterated that no such request would be appropriate until the combatants, whose highest representatives are to participate in the talks with U.S. and other allied officials, hammer out a detailed peace accord--which could take several weeks or even months.


“It would be premature [now] to request a statement of support,” Clinton said after a meeting at the White House with his top national security advisers. “We’re not there yet,” he said, referring to a peace agreement.

But even as the President held out hope for a solution to the war, the Bosnian government demanded that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who has been empowered to negotiate on behalf of the Bosnian Serb rebels, be excluded from the talks.

Muhamed Sacirbey, foreign minister of the Muslim-led Bosnian government, issued his protest after charging that Milosevic was directly responsible for the slaughter of perhaps hundreds of civilians last July in the U.N.-declared “safe area” of Srebrenica and ought to be barred from the talks.

“There is no doubt about it,” Sacirbey said in an interview from New York on NBC’s “Today” show. “He [Milosevic] is the one that’s ultimately responsible for having started these crimes.”

Chief U.S. mediator Richard Holbrooke said later that whatever part Milosevic may have played, he “is one of the two or three key people in making peace in the region, and everybody agrees that he should participate.”

“Peace needs the participation of Milosevic and the group he leads,” Holbrooke declared.

Milosevic and the two other principal negotiators--Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman--flew into Wright-Patterson aboard chartered jetliners.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher will fly to the air base today to launch the negotiations.

The three presidents and allied diplomats will remain at the air base until they either reach agreement or abandon the effort.

The negotiators will be housed in five gray and red brick barracks that surround an empty parking lot on the base.

Holbrooke and other diplomats will relay messages among the delegations and make suggestions for compromises.

Administration officials said Clinton’s brief TV appearance Tuesday marked the start of a wider campaign in which the President hopes to make his case to Congress and the American public for a possible troop deployment.

Christopher ate breakfast with lawmakers Tuesday morning and outlined the situation. Clinton has scheduled a meeting with key congressional leaders for today--the first of several being planned as the talks get under way.

Clinton has been under fire from lawmakers since he said he planned to deploy up to 25,000 U.S. ground troops as part of a 60,000-soldier North Atlantic Treaty Organization force being set up to help enforce a Bosnian peace accord.

Although the warring factions have said they will not sign a peace accord unless the United States is part of the peacekeeping contingent, the House voted 315 to 103 Monday to warn participants in the peace talks not to count on the deployment of U.S. troops.