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German Chancellor Schroeder Works for Russian Cooperation

By Carol J. Williams

and Maura Reynolds
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- BERLIN

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder appeared Thursday to have won Russia’s cooperation in the search for peace in the Balkans, with Moscow’s newly appointed envoy in the Yugoslav crisis signaling interest in a German peace proposal.

Schroeder’s plan seeks to mend fences -- gingerly -- with Russia without weakening NATO terms for an end to airstrikes, which Russia has vehemently opposed. Schroeder said his government is already in close contact with Russian leaders and hopes for a visit “very soon” by Moscow’s special ambassador for Yugoslavia, Viktor S. Chernomyrdin.

The appointment of Chernomyrdin, who enjoyed cordial ties with Western leaders during his five years as prime minister, signaled a change in strategy by Russia, and Chernomyrdin confirmed the new tone Thursday by swiftly embracing Schroeder’s proposal.

“The initiative put forward by Germany is worth supporting,” Chernomyrdin said after meeting with the German ambassador to Russia. “The idea of stopping hostilities for 24 hours and taking this time to find points of agreement ... I think all of this deserves attention.”

Schroeder has made clear that the proposed suspension of airstrikes could start only after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had begun withdrawing his forces from Kosovo.

“Only in this order would it be possible for NATO to suspend military measures and open the way for a political solution,” Schroeder reiterated Thursday in a speech to parliament in Bonn.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, chief architect of the plan that sources in his office say was drawn up in consultation with NATO allies, also clarified that Milosevic would have to pull out its troops from Kosovo “in a verifiable manner” for NATO to consider a halt to the bombing, which began March 24.

The six-point German proposal met with little enthusiasm in Washington and at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, when it was unveiled Wednesday.