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Diplomacy Lessonds From Kosovo

Michael J. Ring

Military action and unrest in two flashpoints, Kosovo and Iraq, continue to command the attention of the world this week.

The United States is playing a major role in both areas. However, its strategy in the two conflicts is radically different. In the Balkans, the United States appears ready to embrace a new NATO cease-fire proposal. In Mesopotamia, the United States continues to defy the will of the vast majority of the international community in carrying out strikes against Saddam Hussein.

The dichotomy between the two situations is striking. The United States has chosen to cooperate with other world powers in an attempt to find a peaceful settlement in Kosovo. Meanwhile America has done nothing to advance peace in Iraq; its nearly unilateral actions have done little to destroy Saddam Hussein's weapons. Instead they have only provoked Saddam and angered other world powers, notably Russia. The United States' Iraq policy has been a failure.

The United States and our British partners should scrutinize the Kosovo proposals, particularly the structure for international cooperation and communication contained in the draft. They must then seek to apply these principles in their handling of Iraq. Only then, with all world powers involved in the resolution of that crisis, can the United States hope to find a stable solution.

Under a NATO-backed plan delivered this weekend to Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, peace talks will begin inFrance on the 6th of February with a one-week window for negotiation. A final resolution must be reached by the 20th. If these peace negotiations fail, NATO is authorized to carry out air strikes in Yugoslavia. Several European nations, including France, Britain, and Germany, have offered to deploy ground troops to support the settlement.

In such a delicate situation there is still ample room for failure. Several key players in the conflict, including Milosevic and the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, have not yet said they will attend talks. But neither have they said they will not attend talks. This proposal has a decent chance at securing peace in the war-torn Yugoslav province.

As this latest proposal was being drafted, the West had struggled to appear fair in arbitrating the dispute. European monitors have identified breaches of the cease-fire agreement on both sides and have avoided heaping excess blame on one side or another.

The proposal has the support of a "Contact Group" of six nations the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia. Support for this agreement reaches beyond the Washington-London alliance. France, a frequent dissenter to military action, is fully involved in this agreement. Even Russia, traditionally an ally of Serbia and a nation increasingly sensitive about American dominance over world affairs, is involved in this proposal.

From shreds of hope in Kosovo we plunge into the darkness of Iraq. Anglo-American forces have continued their confrontations since Operation Desert Fox, frequently firing on anti-aircraft and radar installations.

Here the two nations stand alone. Other world powers such as France and China have repeatedly expressed concern over military action in the Near East. And Russia has spoken fiercely against military intervention in Iraq.

What have the United States and Britain gained from their campaign against Iraq? We've bombed a number of empty factories and presidential palaces. We've driven United Nations inspections teams from the country. We've emboldened Saddam and augmented his popularity among the impoverished Iraqi people. The Anglo-American Iraqi policy has accomplished none of what it was intended to do and caused many events it was ostensibly designed to prevent.

In 1991 a group of nations launched a successful strike against Iraq. Such an operation only worked because of worldwide cooperation. The United States, Britain, and France all supplied troops and military equipment. We were joined by nations of the Arab world, countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia which must live in the shadow of Saddam. World powers such as China and Russia were not openly critical of our policy.

Today we all share the goal of removing chemical and biological weapons from Iraq. But we sharply differ on how to attain that goal. Nations such as France, China, and Russia criticize U.S.-British policy, and our Arab allies from the Gulf War are now silent. The vast majority of nations know that U.S.-British action is actually hindering efforts to check Saddam's weapons program.

The Contact Group's proposal shows that major powers can still cooperate to find solutions to international crises. This logic must be applied to the situation in Iraq. The United States and Britain should stand down and end military strikes. They should invite nations like France and Russia, nations with whom Saddam has better relations, to take the leadership role in inspection.

The United States and Britain may find it humiliating to allow other nations to dictate policy on Iraq. But nothing we have done has helped end Saddam's weapons program. The new Kosovo proposal demonstrates the United States and Britain can work together with other powers to find just solutions to world conflicts. Only a similar working solution can produce a stable solution in Iraq.

Michael J. Ring's column appears each Tuesday.