Familiarity of 'Final Warning' May Breed Serb Contempt

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Richard Holbrooke's "final warning" is as familiar to President Slobodan Milosevic as the Miranda warning is to a career criminal. But Milosevic may have some wiggle room in that Holbrooke has said an immediate cease-fire in Kosovo is a key objective of his Monday meeting with the Serb leader. "The U.S. trip wire on Kosovo has been pretty elastic, and that does little to enhance the credibility of NATO's threats," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "Once we were saying 'Sign this peace deal or we'll bomb you'; now we're saying 'If you kill women and children in front of CNN cameras, we'll bomb you.' " With tens of thousands of Kosovar civilians fleeing the Serb offensive, the human tragedy may yet stiffen NATO's resolve to strike.

Although Milosevic could avoid a NATO strike by reining in his forces at the last moment -- as he did last October -- the Pentagon is concerned that he may not be bluffing. "It may be wishful thinking to imagine that Milosevic is simply waiting for the first bombs for an excuse to throw up his hands and sign the peace deal," says Thompson. "If air strikes don't change his mind, what do we do next? The U.S. is unlikely to seriously consider sending ground troops into a civil war." And Milosevic may not fold if he doubts that NATO holds the aces.

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