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U.S. Considers Role in Escalated Kosovo Crisis

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 1999 – Will U.S. troops be peacekeepers in Kosovo if a settlement is reached? That's the question facing the nation's senior defense officials.

"The chairman, vice chairman and all the service chiefs are examining exactly what might be involved in the event that there is a peace settlement in Kosovo," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told reporters here Feb. 1. "We are going to consult very closely with members of Congress in the next several days."

Cohen said he and other top national security advisers briefed President Clinton on the Kosovo situation earlier that morning. "He has made no decision at this point," Cohen said. "He is going to consider what options are available."

After weeks of increasing violence and Serbian massacres of ethnic Albanian Kosovars, a six-nation Contact Group -- the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia -- set a mid-February deadline for ending the conflict in the southern Serbian province. The group said Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic must grant Kosovo substantial autonomy and called for both sides to begin peace talks Feb. 6.

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said alliance military forces are ready to support the Contact Group's decision if necessary. In a statement released Jan. 28, the North Atlantic Council called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and for Milosevic to withdraw Serb army and special police forces to pre-agreed levels.

"The possibility of air strikes remains very much on the table right now," Cohen told reporters here. He said he would not support putting U.S. ground troops into Kosovo unless there was a political agreement signed by both sides, he stressed. "Absent an agreement, I think it's very clear it would not be wise to intervene in such a situation," he said.

However, Cohen continued, the situation in Kosovo left unchecked could become a burning fuse on a Balkan powder keg. If that were to happen, he said, the United States might be called to play a much larger role than it would were it to contribute at this point.

Another precondition to American participation, Cohen said, would be that European allies must bear a substantial part of the burden in any proposed peacekeeping effort. "Any participation by the United States should be as small as it could be given the military requirements for adequate protection," he said.

France and Great Britain have announced they would send ground troops to Kosovo to enforce a peace settlement.

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