In a high-stakes gamble to end nearly four years of war and terror in Bosnia, the United States said on Sunday that it would shut down the peace talks near here today whether or not the parties resolve their remaining differences.
As the talks continued into the early morning hours today at the Wright-Patterson Air Base outside the city, senior administration officials said the parties appeared to be edging toward an agreement. “This is the ultimate psycho-drama, but we’re getting there,” an American negotiator said.
As part of the administration’s last-minute campaign to pressure the parties to settle, senior American officials suggested on Sunday that President Clinton might travel to Dayton today to seal an accord and preside over an initialing ceremony.
Asked in an interview with CNN in Washington if Clinton would travel to Dayton, the White House spokesman, Michael D. McCurry, said the president “will do whatever he needs to do to help these parties get across the finish line.”
The outcome hinged on three crucial territorial issues: Serb control over areas on the outskirts of Sarajevo, the width of a corridor linking Serbia with the northwest Bosnian town of Brcko, and the width of a second corridor linking the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo with the eastern enclave of Gorazde.
But the accord was also tied to a much wider web of issues including trade sanctions on Serbia, the future military balance in the area, and whether anyone would face trial for the repeated acts of barbarity that have marked the 43-month-old war.
Bosnian officials predicted that an agreement would be reached, even as they complained about its shortcomings. Other European officials also said that an agreement was within reach.
“We’re at 99 percent now,” said one senior European official involved in the talks. “But that still leaves the important one percent.”
To underscore the administration’s determination to end the talks no matter what the outcome, the State Department spokesman, Nicholas Burns, said the United States has scheduled a news conference today.
That suggested that either the three Balkan presidents - Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia and Franjo Tudjman of Croatia - would initial the peace accord or that the Americans would announce that their peace initiative had failed and send everyone home.
The cliffhanger talks, which recessed at 3:30 Sunday morning and resumed again about five hours later, continued past last midnight.