Bush and Clinton unite to block Kosovo pullout

Martin Kettle

Thursday May 18, 2000

Washington - Senate Republicans who are pressing to set a date for the withdrawal of US troops from Kosovo have been ambushed by an unlikely alliance between President Clinton and the Republican presidential candidate, George W Bush.

The two political opponents have joined together in a last-ditch effort to prevent the passage of a bill which would cut off funds for the 5,900 US troops in Kosovo by July 1 2001, and which observers believe was on the verge of winning majority support in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The bill, jointly sponsored by the Republican armed services committee chairman, Senator John Warner, and the veteran Democrat Senator Robert Byrd, would pull the US troops out unless Mr Clinton or his successor obtains congressional approval for continued deployment.

The president would also be required to put forward a timetable for the transfer of responsibility for peacekeeping in Kosovo to European nations, and to certify that all Nato countries are paying their share for the operations.

The Byrd-Warner bill has been described as "a de facto pull-out decision by the United States" by the former Nato supreme commander General Wesley Clark, and is viewed with alarm in most European capitals.

Domestic political opposition to the bill has mainly come from Democrats, who are in a minority in the Senate, and from Republican Senator John McCain, who warned this week that the bill would "send the message to Nato that the United States is an unreliable ally".

Until yesterday, momentum had seemed to be growing for the bill, with most Republicans assuming that the plan had the support of Mr Bush, the Texas governor. But the Republican Senate leadership was taken by surprise by Mr Bush's statement this week that the bill interferes with the constitutional powers of the presidency.

"The Clinton-Gore administration has failed to instill trust in Congress and the American people when it comes to our military and deployment of troops overseas, but the governor does not believe this provision is the way to resolve the lack of presidential leadership," the statement said. "Governor Bush views it as a legislative overreach on powers of the presidency."

Senior members of the Clinton administration kept up the pressure against the bill yesterday. The plan to withdraw US troops was "playing with fire", the secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, said. "We are more than bookkeepers and spectators. We are leaders."

Meanwhile, the defence secretary, William Cohen, said that President Clinton might have to veto the bill, even though that would jeopardise $8.6bn (£5.76bn) worth of new defence spending projects contained in separate sections of the bill.

Original article