Defense Secretary William Perry and the commander of NATO forces in Europe will come to Bosnian peace talks here today as the United States conducts a final crescendo of diplomatic pressure aimed at prodding the parties toward a peace settlement this weekend.
People close to the negotiations, which are now in their third week, said the visits by Perry and Gen. George Joulwan were designed to impress again upon the Serbs and the Muslim-led Bosnian government the extent of America’s commitment to peace and the fact that such an effort would not be made again in the near future if the talks fail.
Joulwan would have overall command of the 60,000-man NATO force that would go to Bosnia to police any peace settlement.
But with an effective deadline of Sunday, there was no sign on Thursday that a crucial breakthrough on territorial questions was imminent, and disagreement on other issues, including the fate of accused war criminals, further complicated chances of a timely settlement.
“No agreement is in the bag yet but there is a general sense that this is an opportunity that cannot and will not be allowed to pass,” said one person with inside knowledge of the negotiations. “The aim is to hold a ceremony to initial the accord either on Sunday or on Monday.”
Secretary of State Warren Christopher is expected to arrive here on Friday evening after a brief visit to Japan and remain until the end of the talks.
Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president, has abandoned all territorial claims in Croatia, where Serbs held 30 percent of the territory just six months ago, but appears determined not to come away empty-handed from the Bosnian war.
The Serbs insist on administrative control of part of Sarajevo and demand that the Bosnian government abandon the eastern enclave of Gorazde. The Bosnian government opposes both demands. The Serbs, for their part, reject Bosnian demands that the Serbs relinquish Srebrenica and Zepa.
The Serbs’ aim is to insure their control over eastern Bosnia. This land is contiguous with Serbia and could be easily joined to it one day if there are no towns there under Bosnian control.
“Milosevic, at this stage, is looking 5 or 10 years down the road,” said one Western official. “The example of Czechoslovakia shows that the international community can accept a peaceful divorce. He wants a block of land that could one day press for a peaceful divorce from Bosnia.”
The Bosnian government is, of course, acutely aware of this, which is why it wants Srebrenica and Zepa back and will not abandon Gorazde. Its long-term aim is that the settlement be structured so that the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serbian republic could eventually be integrated under a central government.
How these differences can be bridged remains unclear. Two absolutely divergent visions of the Bosnian state are still in conflict, but the pressure from the United States to compromise is also enormous, and officials here believe that in the end it will probably prevail.
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