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Friday, October 2, 1998 Published at 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK

World: Americas

Kosovo: The view from Washington

Kosovo villages have been razed to the ground

By State Department Correspondent Richard Lister in Washington

Having described the United States as the world's "indespensible nation", and having promised that it would not stand by and watch "another Bosnia" unfold, the American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright has had her work cut out to try to back up her words with results.

US Republican Congressman Peter King: Supporting airstrikes
The ripples from the fighting in Kosovo have spread far beyond the Balkans and the Clinton Administration has found itself trying to juggle competing foreign policy and domestic priorities as it tried to solve the problem.

In March when Washington first tried to win high level European support for a tougher stance against President Milosevic, Congress was still reeling from the news that US troops would remain in Bosnia for much longer than they had been initially led to believe.

[ image: Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright in Bosnia in August]
Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright in Bosnia in August
There was little appetite for any involvement in a new Balkan dispute, which most in Congress believed should be the responsibility of the Europeans to resolve.

But in Europe, there was only limited concensus in the six nation Contact Group which takes the lead on international policy towards the former Yugoslavia, about how to approach the situation.

Italy, a vital launch pad for American military actions in the past, was reluctant to endorse the use of force against a potentially valuable trading partner such as Yugoslavia, and Russia, which was embarking on a new relationship with Nato, was a forceful opponent of military action.

Compromise deal

The compromise which Mrs Albright hammered out in March was a policy of US mediation between the Kosovar Albanians and Belgrade to try to get them to negotiate a settlement; coupled with limited sanctions against Yugoslavia and the veiled threat of force to make President Milosevic cooperate.

It was pressure that he more or less ignored, and the policy also made it difficult for American mediators to bring the ethnic Albanian rebels to the negotiating table.

[ image: Images of burnt out villages on US television have hardened attitudes]
Images of burnt out villages on US television have hardened attitudes
The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) knew they would never win independence through negotiation and that if the fighting continued NATO might eventually intervene and cripple the Yugoslav fighting machine.

The result of President Milosevic's refusal to bend to dialogue, threats or sanctions, has helped crystallise support for military action on both sides of the Atlantic - especially with the revelation of civilian massacres and mutilations.

{ Image 5} Over the past two weeks a number of prominent Senators, have come out in support of air strikes against Yugoslav forces. Some senior Republicans like the well-respected former presidential candidate Bob Dole and the Senate leader Trent Lott have asked why the West has not acted sooner.

There now appears to be widespread support for American action. Italy too has fallen into line - with some reservations.

Worries over Russia

But there is still concern within the Administration about about how air strikes on Serbia could affect the carefully nurtured relationship with Russia.

The former Russian foreign minister, who argued the case with Mrs Albright in March - Yevgeny Primakov - is now the Prime Minister, and conservative voices in Moscow have more power than they did then.

The "what next" scenario is also a difficult one to map. NATO military action may bring a halt to the offensive against the Kosovars but it does nothing to persuade the KLA to put down their arms and go to the negotiating table, where the best they can hope for is some form of limited autonomy, rather than the outright independence they demand.

Diplomatic options limited

But ultimately, after a long and wearing game of brinksmanship with Belgrade, in which the Kosovars and Western governments have been the losers, Washington knows that it is out of diplomatic options for stopping the fighting.

Its mediators have found that there are no non-military solutions available which are both acceptable to most of those involved, and more importantly, actually work.

Almost everything is now in place for NATO air strikes and only by bending to the will of the international community can President Milosevic hope to stop them.

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