If It's Wednesday, It Must Be Belgrade

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If more than a little wobbly, peace is threatening to break out in the Balkans. Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin and European Union mediator President Martti Ahtisaari were in Belgrade Wednesday after finally reaching an agreement, in marathon talks with U.S. deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott, on a joint peace plan to present to President Slobodan Milosevic. The talks almost broke down earlier with the Russians exasperated at what a spokesman described as Washington’s last-minute proposal of changes to the Bonn Accord "which were not included or agreed earlier." But the envoys appear to have sufficiently ironed out their differences to justify a test of Milosevic’s response.

Now that Milosevic has agreed to negotiate within the somewhat open-ended framework of the Bonn Accord, the alliance has sharpened its interpretation of that accord and has pressed for Moscow’s (and Belgrade’s) agreement while bombs are still falling. The reason may be that once a deal is in place, the alliance loses its prime leverage over Milosevic -– its bombing campaign. Washington fears, with good reason, that Milosevic will have ample opportunity to subvert any undertakings to which he has signed on, while the U.S. will be unlikely to win agreement within NATO to resume the bombing in response. But even while the U.S. is looking to stiffen the peace terms for Milosevic, it may be even less willing to consider the unhappy –- and divisive -– alternatives of simply continuing its air campaign or contemplating a ground war. "Plainly at this point everybody wants out of this war," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. Indeed, the peace talks are continuing precisely because NATO wants to end the war as badly as Milosevic does.

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