'NATO Will Stay Out of Macedonia Until Macedonians Make Peace'

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Macedonian policeman takes aim at a road check point near the village of Opae

TIME.com: NATO says its ready to send troops into Macedonia to help disarm ethnic-Albanian rebels there. Is their deployment imminent?

Andrew Purvis: No, right now it's mostly hypothetical. The alliance has spoken of sending in 3,000 troops (drawn from European armies), but only once two major obstacles have been cleared. The first is that the exceedingly diverse parties in Macedonia's coalition government must agree on a set of legislative and constitutional changes to address the grievances of the country's ethnic Albanians, and the second is that the rebel forces must agree to lay down their weapons in exchange for those political changes.

Where do things stand on each issue?

There's no agreement, not even a tentative one, among the members of the coalition (which includes ethnic Albanian parties) on the sorts of changes necessary. Parties representing the Slavic majority accuse the ethnic-Albanian parties of making wholly unacceptable political demands, which they're not prepared to consider. And there are no public channels open to even discuss these issues with the rebel National Liberation Army. The rebels presented their own peace plan last week, which includes some relatively extreme suggestions — such as incorporating NLA fighters into a reconstituted national army and police force, and including their commanders in any negotiations over constitutional changes. Both of those are non-starters.

Even the demands of the more mainstream Albanian parties are unlikely to be met by the majority parties. They may agree on rewording the preamble to the constitution to make it more inclusive, but they're unlikely to accept the proposal that the constitution establish a principle that a certain percentage of government positions are reserved for Albanians, or that a permanent non-elected vice presidency be created for an ethnic Albanian. So even some of the demands coming from the more moderate side of the ethnic-Albanian community are problematic, and there's still a huge gulf between them and their coalition partners. And NATO won't send in troops before that gulf is bridged.

So what are the Europeans doing to bridge the gulf? Last week EU security chief Javier Solana rushed out of a meeting with President Bush to head for Macedonia, indicating how seriously NATO members view the crisis there. But what can they do?

Last week things looked dire because the NLA occupied a village in the hills around the capital. That created a high level of alarm in Skopje — one Western diplomat said it was as if a knife was pointing at the heart of the city. But as far as what the EU can do to persuade the parties to come to some sort of agreement, they've already threatened to reduce financial aid if there's no agreement by Monday, and that doesn't seem to have helped. Part of the problem here is that the Europeans have insufficient leverage in Macedonia.