Madeleine's War

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It began on Monday with the arrival in Washington of Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former Russian Premier tapped by Boris Yeltsin to help mediate Kosovo. "We're pursuing a double-magnet strategy," Albright explains. "We've been tugging Moscow toward our position of how Kosovo must be resolved and then encouraging them to tug Belgrade in that direction." There were many issues on the table, but one serves as a good example of last week's diplomatic maneuvering: the effort to get Russia to support publicly the deployment of an international military force in Kosovo and then try to sell it to Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic as part of a peace agreement.

Albright had been working almost daily with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on this issue since January, when she flew to Moscow to tell him--during an intermission of La Traviata at the Bolshoi Theater--that NATO was issuing a bombing threat. Four weeks ago, they met in a bare, beige room at the Oslo airport, where Ivanov plucked a silk flower from the table arrangement to give her. He also pulled from his breast pocket a paper with 10 "principles" for a solution. Albright noticed some coincided with NATO's. She proposed that they get out pencils and mark the ones they could agree on. After three hours, Ivanov still had not accepted Washington's core demand for a NATO-led peacekeeping force. But there were enough points of agreement for Albright and Ivanov to emerge with a joint statement.

Since then, Vice President Al Gore and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott had worked on Chernomyrdin, Clinton had spoken three times to Yeltsin, and Albright had spoken almost daily with Ivanov. When he arrived last Monday, Chernomyrdin made it clear that Russia was willing to accept, at least privately, the idea of an international security force, though not necessarily a NATO-led one. The discussions continued throughout the evening at Gore's official residence (while Albright attended a state dinner) and resumed there Tuesday morning.

When he appeared for breakfast on Tuesday, Chernomyrdin spent a few minutes chatting with Albright in Russian, one of six languages she understands, about her days in Belgrade as a child when her father was the Czechoslovak ambassador. She described meeting Tito, giving him flowers. Chernomyrdin argued that the Russians would not publicly support anything the Serbs opposed. That was absurd, she told him bluntly. The Russian role should be to push the Serbs, not merely convey their positions. The U.S. insistence on a NATO-led force was a matter not of theology but of practicality: everyone agreed the Kosovars should return home, but they wouldn't do so without a robust force guaranteeing their safety. When the meeting was over, Albright called Ivanov in Moscow to make sure both Russians got the same message.

That evening she left on an overnight flight to Europe with the President. In the conference room aboard Air Force One, after Berger and Cohen briefed Clinton on military issues, she presented her plan for getting Russia to accept publicly an international security force for Kosovo at a G-8 (the seven major industrial nations plus Russia) foreign ministers' meeting she had convened in Bonn.

Their first stop was in Brussels for a NATO briefing. But midway through General Wesley Clark's discussion of how a peacekeeping force could be structured, Albright got called out. Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini of Italy was phoning with the somewhat surprising news that Milosevic had decided to allow Ibrahim Rugova, the Kosovar Albanian leader, to leave the country. On Serbian TV five weeks ago, Rugova had criticized NATO's bombing, presumably speaking under duress. Albright wanted to make sure that once he arrived in Italy, he would support NATO's position. She dispatched Ambassador Christopher Hill to be there when he landed in Rome.

At Spangdahlem air base in Germany that afternoon, Albright seemed to draw energy from the spirited response of the soldiers and airmen she met. It put her into her feisty, no-nonsense mode. She peppered an F-16 pilot about whether his plane was carrying a maximum payload. "Yes, sir," the pilot responded, then stammered, "I mean, I guess, yes, ma'am."

She relished the celebrity and in fact was the focus of more attention at the air base than even Defense Secretary Cohen or Joint Chiefs Chairman Hugh Shelton. "Thank you for making us proud of what we do," said a serviceman. But a more senior official, standing back in the crowd, gave a cautious critique: "We're being pressed to become the world's policeman, but we don't have the will or the military structure to do it right. Nor do we have a rational method of picking where we'll get involved. Give us a clear job to do and we can usually do it--witness Bosnia and Korea. But you have to set priorities. China and Russia are Class A priorities. Kosovo would have been a C. But we made it a test of our credibility."

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