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Kostunica Reluctant to Receive Clinton or Albright in Yugoslavia

THE WASHINGTON POST -- BELGRADE, YUGOSLAVIA

Yugoslavia’s new president, Vojislav Kostunica, has met with the president of Russia, the foreign minister of France, the former secretary-general of NATO, and a host of other top foreign dignitaries. But he still draws the line at a meeting with Bill Clinton or Madeleine Albright.

“It might be too early,” Kostunica said in an interview here Thursday, four weeks after ousting former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic in Eastern Europe’s last great anti-communist revolution. “One should heal the wounds, not hurt them.”

According to well placed Yugoslav sources, President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright have sent separate informal feelers to Kostunica, suggesting that they would like to come visit.

Albright has personal reasons for wanting to visit Yugoslavia. The daughter of a Czechoslovakian diplomat, she lived in the capital, Belgrade, both before and after World War II. According to Yugoslav sources, Albright sent a friendly handwritten letter to Kostunica last month in which she mentioned her long experience with Serbs, a message greeted with some derision here.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a State Department official said: “The two sides have agreed to have normal relations at all levels with specific meetings arranged at an appropriate time as part of the process of re-establishing ties. Albright sent a note to that effect, and also expressed congratulations and good wishes.”

Formal diplomatic ties between Yugoslavia and leading NATO countries, including the United States, could be re-established as early as next week, according to Western diplomats. Milosevic had severed relations at the start of last year’s NATO bombing campaign.