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U.S. Allies and Russia Work Out Kosovo Peace Formula

By William Drozdiak

The United States and its alliesreached agreement with Russia Thursday on a set of principles for resolving the Kosovo conflict that include the key NATO demand for deployment of an international military force there and an offer to Belgrade of continued sovereignty over the rebellious province.

The agreement, worked out by foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrial democracies and Russia, added momentum to international efforts to reach a diplomatic end to the seven-week-old conflict. Western officials said it provides the framework for a peace accord that they expect will be endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.

President Clinton welcomed the agreement with Russia as “a significant step forward,” but he insisted that NATO’s 44-day-old aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia will continue until the government of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic meets the West's demands.

“I think there is a real peace process under way,” Clinton said as he met here with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, “but it has no chance of reaching a satisfactory conclusion unless we maintain allied unity and firmness. I don’t think the process is long, but I don't think we can afford to be discouraged or be impatient.”

The Serb-led Belgrade government reacted warily to the plan, although a Foreign Ministry official said it contains some positive aspects and added, “We are open to discussion.”

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said his government will be in contact with officials in Belgrade as Moscow assumes a greater mediating role, while U.S. officials announced that Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott will fly to Moscow soon for talks. “There will be more than one, more than two, more than three contacts with Belgrade in the next few days,” Ivanov said.

Seeking to ratchet up the pressure on Milosevic's army and police forces, NATO warplanes continued to pound Yugoslav military targets as they took advantage of Belgrade's weakened air defenses and an expanded armada of aircraft deployed mainly by the United States, Britain and France.

NATO military officials Thursday produced details to support their repeated claims over the past few weeks that alliance forces are striking hard at the Yugoslav army and Serbian special police forces responsible for the expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians from Kosovo -- a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic. Thursday alone, Pentagon officials disclosed, NATO aircraft bombed 27 tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles in the province.

To date, NATO planes have destroyed 50 percent of the military's ammunition supply in the province and struck more than 300 heavy weapons, including 200 tanks and artillery pieces, Maj. Gen. Walter Jertz, a NATO military spokesman, told reporters in Brussels.

“Essentially, as of today, we have pinned, pretty much, them down; we have pretty much largely cut them off and are about to begin to take them out,” Jertz said. He said the air war is “having a powerful impact on the ability of Serb forces to carry out their policy of ethnic cleansing.”