U.S. and Europe Split on Plan to Squeeze Serbia

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Madeleine Albright is putting the squeeze on Europe’s attempts to aid the Serbian opposition -- and the biggest beneficiary may be Slobodan Milosevic. A Luxembourg meeting between European Union foreign ministers and Serbian opposition leaders collapsed Monday, after the Serb politicians refused to attend. The meeting was to have discussed a pilot plan -– strongly opposed by Washington -– in which the EU would provide $5 million in heating oil to two Serbian cities controlled by opposition parties. The Serb parties refused to attend because the Europeans, under pressure from the U.S., had added the condition that the Serbs’ sign an undertaking to extradite Milosevic and others wanted as war criminals if they come to power. "That demand effectively sabotaged the meeting," says TIME Central Europe bureau reporter Dejan Anastasijevic. "The demand for extradition to the Hague is not only unpopular in Serbia; it’s also illegal under Yugoslavian law and would give Milosevic a legal pretext for banning opposition parties and arresting their leaders."

Despite the absence of the Serb delegates, the Europeans resolved to go ahead with the scheme to aid the opposition-controlled municipalities, reflecting a deepening division between Europe and the U.S. over the fate of Serbia. With winter just around the corner, the Europeans fear that the damage inflicted on Serbia’s energy infrastructure by NATO’s bombing will create a humanitarian disaster, and are looking for ways to reduce Serb suffering without strengthening Milosevic. But, according to the New York Times, U.S. officials oppose assistance that alleviates public discontent. They hope, says the Times, that public misery "could lead to protests in Yugoslavia, early elections, or even Milosevic's ouster or resignation." Washington’s European allies are unconvinced that any good can come from increasing Serb suffering through another brutal Balkan winter, and fear that a humanitarian disaster in Serbia would simply further destabilize the region. "There’s a widening rift on strategy between the U.S., the Europeans and the Serb opposition," says Anastasijevic. "And that’s a rift Milosevic is more than happy to exploit."