Belgrade Takes the Bait, Opening a Dangerous Path Toward Peace

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The devil may be not only in the details of the Kosovo peace agreement but also in the perceptions it creates. For starters, Slobodan Milosevic is going to have a hard time explaining to his people why they’ve had to endure 71 days of bombing, only to see him agree to NATO forces entering Kosovo. Milosevic Thursday accepted a proposal brought to Belgrade by Russian mediator Viktor Chernomyrdin and E.U. representative Martti Ahtisaari after negotiations with U.S. envoy Strobe Talbott. While providing a script to implement the Bonn accord, the agreement’s provisions are vague on some of the key points of contention. "It envisages NATO participation in the peacekeeping force, but the alliance’s precise role hasn’t yet been defined," says TIME Central Europe bureau chief Massimo Calabresi. And despite strong objections from Talbott, Chernomyrdin has visualized the peacekeeping operation as a de facto partition in which NATO and Russian forces take charge of different parts of Kosovo. The agreement requires NATO to end its bombing once a verifiable withdrawal of Yugoslavian forces from Kosovo has begun. "A key first step will be for the Yugoslavian army to shut off its air defenses," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "After that, NATO will want to see ground forces out of there in a week."

While Milosevic is being pilloried by nationalist opponents for caving in to NATO demands, the deal holds a number of political dangers for the alliance too. Among other things, the deal would require NATO forces entering Kosovo to take charge of disarming the KLA, which may be far from easy. "And Milosevic may endorse the deal but delay its implementation, hoping to put pressure on NATO to end its bombing," says Calabresi. "This leaves him with more maneuverability than he had before." And that will make NATO unlikely to easily give up its only leverage, the air campaign. "The alliance can refrain from attacking retreating troops but bomb other targets," says Thompson. "The Pentagon’s advice to the political leaders will be that there’s nothing to gain by stopping the bombing early, and everything to lose."

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