Richard C. Holbrooke, who was sent here by the Clinton administration to salvage the faltering Bosnia peace accords, ended negotiations with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic on Saturday without any major breakthrough.
A top item on the agenda with Milosevic was how to deal with Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader who has been indicted for war crimes.
But Holbrooke acknowledged he was “skeptical” of a pledge made at the meeting that Karadzic would be stopped from wielding power behind the scenes in the Serb-held part of Bosnia.
Karadzic has been instrumental in blocking major aspects of the Bosnian peace plan and is believed by the Clinton administration to be the mastermind behind recent harassment of NATO troops in Bosnia. More than 8,000 U.S. troops are part of a NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia.
Holbrooke, who was the architect of the Bosnia peace accords and was brought out of private life as a banker to try to rescue them, spent four days in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia trying to win concessions from the main protagonists.
But instead of dealing with the main threats to a unified Bosnia - the inability of refugees to return home and the persistent power of Karadzic - Holbrooke spent the bulk of his time haggling over telephone area codes, designs for currency and the appointment of Bosnian ambassadors.
Milosevic, who is viewed as the main architect of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war but who has become a major player for the United States in maintaining the peace, was the chief target of Holbrooke’s mission.
The two men bullied each other during negotiations that resulted in the Dayton peace accords of December 1995, but had not met since a year ago when Holbrooke came here to engineer an agreement that Karadzic would withdraw from politics in Serbheld Bosnia.
That agreement, brokered with Milosevic, has been flagrantly flouted, Holbrooke conceded Saturday. Holbrooke said Milosevic was joined at the meeting Saturday morning by Momcilo Krajisnik, the Bosnian Serb who is a member of the joint presidency of Bosnia, and a close colleague of Karadzic. Holbrooke said after the meeting he was “exceedingly blunt” to Krajisnik, saying that NATO forces would maintain close pressure on Karadzic.
The Clinton administration has become increasingly concerned in the last month that as efforts to create a functioning country out of Bosnia stagnate and sporadic violence continues, the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. troops by next June looks less and less likely.
In all, there are 31,000 NATO troops in Bosnia. European leaders have said that if Washington withdraws its soldiers, European troops will leave, too.
The absence of Western troops in Bosnia after next June would almost certainly lead to renewed war, Western diplomats and Serbian officials here say.
The Bosnian army now feels more confident because of equipment and training it has received from the United States in the last year.
Holbrooke’s visit came a month after NATO-led troops took their first action against indicted war criminals in Bosnia, arresting one and killing another.
An administration official said that the action was part of a strategy to increase the pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to comply with the Dayton agreements.
Karadzic is seen as the main force against the agreements.
Holbrooke has been an outspoken critic of the administration’s reluctance to use force against indicted war crimes suspects.
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