The Ace in the Hole

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: After months of negotiation and tough talk, the State Department has enlisted the help of Richard Holbrooke to help negotiate the removal of war-crime suspect Radovan Karadzic. Holbrooke, the negotiator who played a crucial role in the talks that led to the Dayton agreement, departed Monday for a series of talks with Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic, the same group that hashed out the Dayton peace accords. "Holbrooke might succeed where others have failed because of his special credibility after Dayton," says TIME's Dean Fischer. "He also enjoys a close relationship with Milosevic." The State Department has been trying to keep Karadzic, the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs who is prevented by Dayton from running for office, from exerting his influence through loyal subordinates. Holbrooke's mission: strip Karadzic of any influence by negotiating with his protector, Serbia's Milosevic. Although NATO troops are obliged to arrest Karadzic, they are not required to seek him out. That leaves diplomacy as the only viable venue for removing him. Holbrooke's other mission is to make sure that the upcoming elections in Bosnia are held in mid-September, despite obvious flaws. "I think the elections are certain to be imperfect and it's essential they go on," Holbrooke said last month. "If the elections are not held while NATO are on the ground, they probably never will be held." Holbrooke, who left his position as assistant Secretary of State in February for a lucrative career on Wall Street, is probably delighted to be back, says Fisher. There is even speculation that the forceful and skilled negotiator is being considered for the top State Department position, to replace Warren Christopher, in the event of a second-term Clinton Administration. -- Lamia Abu-Haidar