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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 13:21 GMT

UK Politics

Cook mission to heal Nato rifts

The potential use of ground troops has divided Nato

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is setting off on a whistle-stop tour of Italy, Germany and France to try to heal the UK's divisions with its Nato partners over Kosovo.

Kosovo: Special Report
The move comes as Defence Secretary George Robertson prepares to tell MPs how many troops the UK might provide to help implement Nato's plan to up its forces on Yugoslavia's borders to about 50,000.

UK officials are hopeful that Mr Cook's meetings with the foreign ministers of each country will help to end disagreements over strategy which have emerged over the past week.

Mr Cook was in Rome for breakfast, then flew on to Bonn for lunch and ends up in Paris by late afternoon.

The BBC's Brian Hanrahan: Confusing signals coming out of Serbia
The series of visits are going ahead as US, Finnish and Russian envoys continue talks in Moscow in an effort to further a solution to the Kosovo crisis.

Mr Cook's officials say his tour is an attempt to reassert Nato unity and review diplomatic options.

The foreign secretary is apparently keen to try to mend fences with his European colleagues.

He is also keen to impress on them the need to offer the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic no hint of a compromise.

Ruffled feathers within Nato

[ image: Mr Cook met Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini in Rome]
Mr Cook met Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini in Rome
The tour comes days after Mr Cook and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright conducted a series of joint interviews to deny reports of a rift between their respective governments over the use of ground troops.

The UK ruffled feathers among its allies in Europe and across the Atlantic last week by suggesting Nato break with its previously-stated policy and send in ground troops to take over Kosovo by force - without a peace settlement with Belgrade.

Brits in Balkans
That prompted Germany to rule out a ground invasion. And Italy and Greece challenged Nato orthodoxy by arguing maybe it was time for a pause in the air campaign.

However, on Sunday, Mr Cook said that Mrs Albright had endorsed the idea of deploying ground troops in Kosovo in a "non-permissive" environment.

The foreign secretary, say his officials, now wants to reassert Nato solidarity and send a message to the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that the alliance will not compromise on its demands

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