Europeans Look to Kofi Annan on Kosovo

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He may have been sidelined by the war, but Kofi Annan is the front-runner to win the peace. The U.N. secretary general joined European Union leaders Wednesday for talks on a political solution to the Kosovo crisis, having been tapped by both NATO and Russia as the man most likely to deliver a settlement. The E.U. leaders are discussing a German peace proposal that begins with a one-day suspension of NATO air strikes if Milosevic begins withdrawing his forces from Kosovo. A well-armed United Nations force, led by NATO countries, would move in to protect returning refugees, and once the Serb troop withdrawal was completed, bombing would be permanently suspended. The territory would be placed under U.N. administration pending a negotiated settlement on its future political status.

The German proposal is designed to bring Russia aboard, accommodating Moscow's objections to having NATO take over Kosovo. It also potentially allows both the Western alliance and the Serbs a face-saving retreat from the standoff over NATO troops that sank the Rambouillet deal and precipitated the current conflict -- President Slobodan Milosevic can say that despite bombing he didn't cede control of Kosovo to NATO; the alliance can call the change a what's-in-a-name distinction. All of this assumes, of course, that Milosevic recognizes that he has more to gain from a settlement than from his current defiance. Until there's some sign that he's ready to deal, NATO plans to maintain -- and even escalate -- its air war.