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Clark, Outside Milosevic Trial, Urges U.S. to Renew Alliances

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Special to The Times

Democratic presidential candidate Wesley K. Clark, who as supreme commander of NATO directed the alliance’s 1999 bombing campaign against Slobodan Milosevic’s forces in Kosovo, testified here Monday in the war crimes trial of the former Yugoslav president.

Clark’s testimony was held behind closed doors because the court has given the U.S. government permission to review the transcript for national security concerns before it is made public. The retired four-star general told reporters he welcomed the chance to participate in the prosecution of Milosevic on charges of atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo. The trial, he said, has important implications for the Balkans and may serve as a precedent for bringing fallen Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to justice.

“I think for the people of the region, it’s a very important experience,” Clark said outside the courthouse. “It’s the rule of law. It’s closure with a man who caused the deaths, or is alleged to have caused the deaths, of hundreds of thousands.... It’s a very important precedent for what may be happening later with another dictator from another part of the world.”

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Although Clark’s appearance was scheduled long ago, it enabled him to capitalize on a key moment in the race for the Democratic nomination for president. In a policy speech to a Dutch audience Monday, Clark sought to portray himself as the candidate with the military and diplomatic experience needed to take on President Bush, who is reaping the political benefits of Hussein’s capture this weekend.

Clark warned that even though Hussein had been detained, the U.S. still was facing many challenges in Iraq.

“The entire resistance in Iraq was not run by a pathetic ex-dictator hiding in a hole,” Clark said, according to an advance copy of the speech provided by his campaign. “Iraq is still in danger of becoming a failed state. A failed state would be a stunning success for Al Qaeda.”

For the United States, Clark said, success in Iraq will require abandoning a foreign policy that has alienated traditional American allies. He called for the U.S. to forge new bonds with Europe and NATO and to embrace the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, both of which Bush has rejected.

“I know first-hand that working through alliances can be hard,” Clark said during the speech at the Clingendael Institute for International Relations, recalling his tenure at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and as a military advisor to Balkans peace negotiators in the Clinton administration. But he added: “I believe alliances are indispensable, not inconvenient. And I prefer coalitions of the committed rather than coalitions of convenience.”

Clark’s testimony could be a political risk because his rivals are likely to pore over every word, analysts said. The transcript is set to be released by Friday. But it may not be complete, because the State Department could seek the court’s permission to remove information.

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Milosevic, who is serving as his own lawyer, has been a pugnacious cross-examiner during a trial that began in February 2002. He portrays his wartime enemies as Islamic terrorists and may use that argument against Clark, who has called Bush’s fight against terrorism weak.

Milosevic may also assert he was key to the U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accords of 1995, which ended the war in Bosnia, said Allen Weiner, a professor of international law at Stanford and former State Department liaison with the tribunal here.

“He could say, ‘You treated me like a man of peace, how can you call me a war criminal?’ ” Weiner said. “Clark is going to have to be ready for that.”

Nonetheless, Clark could fortify the case that Milosevic, even if he was insulated by the chain of command, knew of atrocities and did nothing to stop them.

And the tribunal seems a good stage for a candidate whose vision of world affairs emphasizes diplomacy and international justice as well as military force, Weiner said.

“I will never forget the lessons of [Kosovo] and the Balkans: that Europe and America must act in the face of evil; and that we are far better off when we act together,” Clark said in his speech Monday. “It is high time for Europeans and Americans to restore that unity of action.”

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Times staff writer Rotella reported from Paris and special correspondent Heingartner from The Hague.

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