Milosevic Throws a Wicked Curveball

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Slobodan Milosevic has controlled the agenda throughout the Balkan crisis -- and now he's scheduled an extra-tough week for President Clinton. "In exchange for three American soldiers, Milosevic has gotten an ecumenical tag team to assault Washington's policy, even while the Serbs intensify their ethnic cleansing in Kosovo," says TIME Central Europe bureau chief Massimo Calabresi. "It's a brilliant piece of manipulation, designed to break the resolve of the West to fight on, which would be disastrous for U.S. foreign policy." And Milosevic may just be succeeding: President Clinton Monday finds himself having to respond to a peace offensive from Belgrade, underscored by everyone from Jesse Jackson and Trent Lott to Boris Yeltsin and Nelson Mandela. Although NATO signaled there would be no reciprocal concessions for the prisoner release by launching another night of heavy bombing Sunday, pressure for a diplomatic solution is mounting, fueled over the weekend by exhortations to negotiate from the unlikely duo of Jackson and Senate Majority Leader Lott -- and, perhaps, by the latest "collateral damage" incident in which NATO blew away 47 people aboard a civilian bus crossing a bridge in Kosovo.

Clinton met Jackson Monday to receive a letter sent by Milosevic urging a face-to-face meeting, a call endorsed by the civil rights leader. He'll also meet Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin to discuss progress in Moscow's diplomatic initiative. "The key question in the diplomatic process is military control over Kosovo," says Calabresi. "Anything less than a NATO-led peacekeeping force, even if it has a U.N. mandate, and the full withdrawal of Serb forces will mean that Milosevic has defeated NATO." It's already clear that the compromise will be to send in an international force under U.N. auspices, but questions as to the extent of NATO involvement, of the nature of its armaments and of the extent of Serb withdrawal remain to be settled -- at this stage as much by missiles as by missives.

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