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Clinton Hints Bombing Could Pause if Serbs Leave Kosovo

By Ken Fireman

and William Douglas
NEWSDAY

WASHINGTON

On a day of hectic diplomatic activity, President Clinton suggested Monday that there might be a pause in the bombing of Yugoslavia if it met certain conditions, while Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin said he felt a diplomatic solution to the Kosovo conflict was “closer” after meeting Clinton at the White House.

But the talk of peace was tentative and conditional, and Chernomyrdin acknowledged that “very detailed negotiations and discussions” were still needed to make progress. A senior administration official said that the differences between Washington and Moscow had narrowed, but that the United States and Yugoslavia remained far apart on the key issues that divide them.

“This is not something that is going to result in some magical breakthrough in the next nanosecond,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

After spending about 90 minutes with Chernomyrdin, Clinton then met with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who led a delegation of religious leaders that persuaded Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to release three American POWs.

Jackson asked Clinton to reach out to Milosevic, at least by telephoning him to thank him for freeing the captives, saying such a call might serve to break the diplomatic ice. But the administration official ruled out such a gesture as “unproductive.”

Jackson said he had also asked Clinton to release two Yugoslav POWs as a reciprocal gesture.

“Those little steps in the right direction can spare all of us a long and bloody war,” Jackson said. “We have the right not to talk. ... To not talk is not the right thing to do. To not exchange prisoners is not the right thing to do. We are strong enough to express courtesy.”

Administration officials have not ruled out the possibility of releasing the POWs but did not indicate such a release was imminent.

Jackson said he remains hopeful the president will respond, given other diplomatic efforts, including those by Chernomyrdin.

“He did not say, ‘I would do it.’ He needs time to mull over, to think about it,” Jackson said. “We as a great nation, the only superpower, must not succumb to the arrogance of power or the idolatry of might.”

Chernomyrdin said Clinton had shown receptivity to a bombing pause under certain conditions _ conditions the president spelled out in a press conference shortly before he met the Russian. He said Milosevic must at least begin to withdraw his forces from Kosovo and indicate acceptance of NATO's core demands: a total Yugoslav pullout, a return of all refugees and deployment of an international security force to protect them.

On the thorny question of the composition of that force, an issue that lies at the heart of the dispute between NATO and Milosevic, Clinton appeared to continue a process of softening somewhat Washington's position. When the bombing started in late March, the administration had demanded that NATO “lead” the force; it later shifted to a stance of NATO forming its “core.”

Monday, Clinton did not repeat either of those formulations. He said the force could operate under United Nations auspices and contain Russian soldiers, but NATO must be “a big part of it.”