Wriggling Room for Milosevic

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NATO may be shaping up to strike the Serbs in Kosovo, but it's also giving President Slobodan Milosevic a wide escape route. Hoping to force a cease-fire without actually firing a shot, U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke shuttled between Belgrade and Kosovo Tuesday promoting a deal in which negotiations over the region's final political status are deferred for three years

"Milosevic is likely to wait until the last possible moment and then make enough concessions to avert an air strike," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. Belgrade has already declared an end to its offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo, and will likely make further commitments to avoid attack. U.N. and NATO sources insist that Milosevic has not yet complied with international demands, but further concessions could leave NATO in a difficult position. Says Dowell, "Skeptics believe that if NATO had really been planning to intervene in Kosovo, it should have done so a long time ago."