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Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: The search for a diplomatic solution

New envoy President Ahtisaari is mediating between the US and Russia

By Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason

Diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the Kosovo conflict have been intensifying.

Germany and Italy have backed a central role for the United Nations Security Council.

Kosovo: Special Report
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, after talks in Bari with the Italian Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, said a new Security Council resolution could pave the way to a suspension of Nato's bombing campaign.

British officials say various options for a pause in the air strikes are being discussed.

And a new mediator in the crisis - the Finnish President, Martti Ahtisaari - has been meeting Russian and American envoys in Helsinki on Tuesday, to discuss a joint approach to Belgrade.

This multiplicity of envoys and diplomatic contacts does not necessarily reflect progress in reconciling differences between Russia and the West.

'Road map' for Kosovo

But efforts are being stepped up to draw up a Security Council resolution fleshing out principles for a Kosovo settlement.

Senior officials of the G8 big power grouping, including Russia, will meet in Germany on Wednesday to continue work on a draft text and on what British officials call a road map - that is, a schedule of the next steps to be taken.

[ image: Mr Schroder and Mr D'Alema discussed a pause in the bombing]
Mr Schroder and Mr D'Alema discussed a pause in the bombing
Chancellor Schröder said that if there were a Security Council resolution, they would then have to discuss whether to consider suspending the air strikes.

Prime Minister D'Alema was more definite - there would be a temporary halt if the resolution was passed. He emphasised the importance of giving back a central role to the Security Council.

British officials said there were various options and views being considered. There could, for example, be a 24-hour pause in the bombing after the resolution to give Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic a chance to withdraw his forces from Kosovo.

The resolution would demand such a withdrawal, in line with an agreement in principle between Russia and the western powers, together with the deployment of an international security presence.

There is still disagreement over the composition of such a force and Nato's role in it.

Search for common ground

These issues are also at the heart of an initiative by the new European Union envoy, President Ahtisaari. He was holding talks in Helsinki on Tuesday with both the senior American official, Strobe Talbott, and President Yeltsin's representative, Viktor Chernomyrdin.

If they find enough common ground, there could be a joint mission to Belgrade by the Finnish and Russian envoys, to present an agreed series of demands.

The diplomatic option is being pursued amid signs of increasing differences within Nato as the air campaign shows no sign of forcing Mr Milosevic to back down.

Britain has again raised the possibility of an operation by ground troops in certain circumstances, but Chancellor Schröder ruled it out as unthinkable.

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