Milosevic Withdraws While the Iron Is Hot

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It was too good an opportunity for Slobodan Milosevic to resist. With NATO under mounting pressure from China, Russia and even some of its own members to stop bombing Yugoslavia, the Serbian leader announced Monday that he'd ordered some of his troops out of Kosovo and offered to reduce his forces to "peacetime levels" if NATO halts its air campaign. Milosevic is unlikely to withdraw all his forces -- many are involved in daily skirmishes with the Kosovo Liberation Army along the Albanian border -- but any significant retreat will sharply raise pressure on NATO to call off the bombers. "Last week President Clinton said bombing could stop only if there was a substantial Serb withdrawal, and Milosevic seems to have decided this would be an advantageous time to press NATO into negotiations," says TIME Central Europe reporter Dejan Anastasijevic. "He's going to partially fulfill NATO's demands, hoping that the mounting pressure on the alliance will work in his favor." If the alliance does suspend its bombing campaign, restarting it may prove politically impossible.

It's not only Belgrade's peace offensive that challenges NATO's control over events in Kosovo. The peace framework agreed to last Thursday by NATO and Russia makes the U.N. Security Council the central vehicle for peace in Kosovo, requiring its endorsement of an international peace force. But both Russia and China have veto power in the council, which makes it unlikely that NATO will have everything its own way in a peace deal. "Washington's ability to control the situation is waning as pressure mounts for a deal," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "Even among countries that have supported NATO's objectives, there's a growing lack of faith in the present U.S. administration's grasp of diplomacy and war." With nobody planning a fight to the finish, the battle is now to win the peace.

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