Milosevic 'Victory' Boast Smells Like a Peace Ploy

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President Clinton is urging U.S. forces to fight the good fight in Kosovo; President Milosevic is telling his troops that their work there is done. And that may be a prelude to a new peace offensive from Belgrade. Clinton on Wednesday again stressed that NATO would fight on until Serb troops are withdrawn and the refugees are allowed to return under the protection of "an international force with NATO at its core." President Milosevic, though, appeared to be preparing to make a new concession Wednesday, when he praised his army for withstanding the alliance's attacks and declared that the "terrorist threat" posed by the Kosovo Liberation Army had been eliminated. "By wrapping up whatever he wanted to accomplish in Kosovo, Milosevic may be preparing the ground for making some sort of compromise with NATO," says TIME Belgrade reporter Dejan Anastasijevic. Since fighting the KLA was Belgrade's ostensible reason for sending its army into Kosovo in the first place, declaring victory gives Milosevic a pretext to begin withdrawing troops without appearing to be caving in.

Although he's unlikely to order the near-total withdrawal demanded by NATO, any substantial Serb withdrawal from Kosovo could wrong-foot Washington by raising pressure inside the alliance to halt the bombing. "The U.S. won't want to halt the bombing easily, especially now that the Pentagon feels it's beginning to move in their favor," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "Once halted, it will be extremely difficult to restart the air campaign." And NATO commanders will be reluctant to give up their only leverage over Belgrade this early in the endgame.