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U.S. Warns Serbia that NATO Will Fight to Protect Sarajevo

By Daniel Williams
and Barton Gellman

The Washington Post


After a weekend round of severe artillery atacks on Sarajevo, Secretary of State Warren Christopher warned Serbian leaders Monday that a two-month old NATO threat to protect the city remains in force.

Christopher's unilateral warning came after 10 days of unsuccessful U.S. efforts to persuade the European allies to issue a similar warning on behalf of the NATO alliance. Alliance sources disclosed Monday that Robert E. Hunter, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, on Oct. 8 began urging that NATO reaffirm last summer's threat to bomb Serb positions in Bosnia-Herzegovina if the strangulation of Sarajevo persisted.

The Clinton administration fears that last weekend's bombardment of Sarajevo -- the first substantial Serb attack since August -- together with a new upsurge in interference with U.N. relief convoys, may mark the start of what one official called a Serb attempt "to seal off the whole central Bosnian area." A second official said the Christopher warning was meant to "nip in the bud" any Serb offensive.

Washington also is concerned that the Serbs are testing Washington's resolve in the wake of a domestic uproar over botched interventions in Somalia and Haiti, a senior State Department official said.

Christopher cabled his warning to Slobodan Milosevic, the president of Serbia, which is the chief arms supplier for the breakaway Bosnian Serbs. He reminded Milosevic that NATO bombing plans, approved last August, continue in place, a State Department official said.

The shelling, coupled with obstruction of relief convoys "may indicate a new attitude ... that would have very grave consequences," department spokesman Michael McCurry said.

In August, a reluctant NATO, under heavy prodding by the United States, endorsed a plan to use air strikes to knock out Serb artillery if the Serbs renewed their seige of Sarajevo and other Muslim towns. Defense Secretary Les Aspin PhD '66 will meet later this week with his counterparts in Brussels, an administration official said, and that meeting will offer "a better test of NATO's political will."