Monday, March 15, 1999 Published at 20:33 GMT
Analysis: Pressure mounts on Belgrade
Robin Cook and Hubert Vedrine arrive for the talks
By South East Europe analyst Gabriel Partos
During last month's peace talks at Rambouillet near Paris 14 out of the 15 members of the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team were reportedly prepared to sign the peace plan on offer.
But there was one crucial exception.
He was Hashim Thaci, the delegation's leader, who is also the most high-ranking official representing the ethnic Albanian guerrilla force, the Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA.
The delay suggested that hardline KLA commanders were unwilling to agree to a deal that envisages the disarming of their force but does not specifically mention a referendum on independence in three years' time - as demanded by most Kosovar Albanians.
The delay in signing up may also have had to do with posturing since at no stage could the ethnic Albanian side realistically expect the Contact Group to yield on either of these two key issues.
Now the Kosovar Albanians have told the British and French foreign ministers, Robin Cook and Hubert Vedrine, who are chairing the peace talks, that the ethnic Albanian team is ready to initial the accords at any time.
Not good news for Belgrade
The Kosovar Albanians' move has been welcomed by Mr Cook and Mr Vedrine as very good news. But not so for Belgrade.
Now that they've finally come round to point of signing it, Belgrade is certain to feel the heat of international pressure.
Serbia remains adamant that it will not allow a Nato-led multinational force to be deployed in Kosovo to help implement the peace deal.
That opposition to the peacekeepers was reiterated on the eve of the second round of talks by the head of the Serbian delegation, Ratko Markovic.
But Belgrade's resistance to the plan is now likely to be tested by intense diplomatic pressure. And once the ethnic Albanian signatures are on the document, that diplomatic persuasion will be accompanied by a more credible threat of possible Nato air strikes against Serbian targets if Belgrade refuses to give in.
Air strikes still avoidable
President Milosevic may still believe he can drag out the negotiations. He's hoping to exploit the continuing divisions within the Contact Group where the Russians remain strongly opposed to the use of force, as advocated by the Americans.
Several European Nato members are also extremely reluctant to launch air strikes against Serbia. Such attacks can yet be avoided if Belgrade gives way.
In the meantime, the Kosovar Albanians' acceptance of the deal may signal the beginning of really serious negotiations with Mr Milosevic.