November 11, 1999

NYT - Surprising Serbs, Clinton Is Considering a Stopover in Kosovo

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton may add a brief stop in Kosovo to his coming trip this month through southern Europe to highlight the importance of the peacekeeping mission there and to address the tensions between Serbs and Albanians, administration officials said Wednesday.

The stopover would also be a new slap at President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, since under the agreement that brought an end to the NATO bombing, Kosovo is administered by the United Nations but formally remains part of Serbia.

An official at the Yugoslav mission to the United Nations in New York said she had heard nothing about the president's plans but expected official notification from Washington. "Kosovo is not an independent state that anybody can just jump in," the official said, declining to give her name.

But that appeared to be what the president intended to do. "He's going into a U.N.-controlled and patrolled area," a State Department official said. "The authority in Kosovo is in the U.N."

Aides involved in planning the trip say the president will very likely visit the United States military base in south-central Kosovo known as Camp Bondsteel, a 775-acre site surrounded by barbed wire, concrete barriers and guard towers.

The aides said that security concerns remain about visiting the province, which just months ago was being pelted by NATO bombs and where incidents of ethnic violence continue. White House aides said it was premature to announce the trip officially.

"Security is the overarching sensitivity," said a Pentagon official. "I can only imagine how the Secret Service may be reacting to this little jaunt."

Officials said the visit would include a face-to-face meeting between Serbs and Albanians during which Clinton would urge them to put violence and hatred aside.

The president will most likely call for more financial support from foreign governments for reconstruction in Kosovo, officials said.

"I think it's an important trip to show the American commitment to the progress in Kosovo," an administration official said.

A State Department official said the government of Milosevic is expected to object to the trip.

But international law experts said the agreement that ended the war left some ambiguity about Kosovo.

"It's true that there is still Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo," said Allan Gerson, a former counsel to the United States mission to the United Nations and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "In a formal way, that's true. But it's in contradiction with other provisions that call for an economically and politically self-sufficient entity."

In a speech outlining his foreign policy goals on Monday, Clinton said there was no future for Milosevic, a leader the president called "the last living relic" of the Communist era.

The schedule of Clinton's coming trip has already been juggled because of safety fears. The White House announced today that Clinton would delay and shorten his state visit to Greece, which was to begin on Monday, because of the prospect of violent anti-American protests there.

Joe Lockhart, the White House press secretary, said the delay came at the request of the Greek government. But administration officials have been concerned about recent demonstrations and acts of violence in Greece that have been directed against Americans.

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