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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 18:34 GMT 19:34 UK

UK Politics

Cook mission to heal Nato rifts

The potential use of ground troops has divided Nato

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has won Italy's backing for the continued bombing of Serbia on a whistle-stop tour of the UK's European Nato partners.

The BBC's Bridget Kendall travelled with Robin Cook on his visits to Rome, Bonn and Paris
Mr Cook visited Italy, Germany and France on Wednesday to try to heal the UK's divisions with its allies over Kosovo.

After his first stop in Rome, the Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said he would not press for a pause in the bombing.

[ image: Mr Cook met Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini in Rome]
Mr Cook met Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini in Rome
"I think the two efforts, both diplomatic and military, must go in parallel," Mr Dini said.

"Of course none of us like the bombing. In the present circumstance, we don't see an alternative."

Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema suggested a bombing pause last week, prompting speculation about allied splits.

Mr Dini backed the UK foreign secretary's concerted attempt to show unity.

The BBC's Brian Hanrahan: Confusing signals coming out of Serbia
"There is a common view on how the conflict should be approached from now on. The alliance stands united on how to proceed," he said.

But he stressed Italy would oppose sending troops into Kosovo unless Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had conceded defeat.

Kosovo: Special Report
Mr Cook's series of visits went ahead as US, Finnish and Russian envoys continue talks in Moscow in an effort to further a solution to the Kosovo crisis.

Later, in Bonn, Mr Cook insisted "ethnic cleansing has no place in Europe today".

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the international community had made "substantial progress" after his talks with Mr Cook.

He added: "We have worked out way up to the door of a peace agreement."

Before his trip, Mr Cook's officials said he was keen to impress on them the need to offer President Milosevic no hint of a compromise.

Ruffled feathers within Nato

[ image: Robin Cook: On his second Nato unity tour in a week]
Robin Cook: On his second Nato unity tour in a week
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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