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White House Searches for Ways To Strengthen Its Stand on Bosnia

PRESIDENT Clinton appears to be edging toward a Bosnia policy somewhat tougher than that of the Bush administration, but far short of large-scale military intervention.

After promising a more "active" approach to events in the former Yugoslavia during the campaign, President Clinton is now finding out how hard making changes in foreign affairs can be.

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For one thing, outside events often set the agenda - witness the pressure from international negotiators Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen for the United States to back their controversial Bosnian peace plan. For another, bold moves can suddenly look less attractive when the lives of US service personnel are your responsibility.

"It's a very difficult situation," says John Bolton, a Bush State Department official who is now a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. "They [Clinton's team] had somewhat unrealistic expectations during the campaign."

As of this writing, the White House had not yet completed a policy review of its options in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

On Feb. 8, President Clinton said, "We are very close" to finishing the study and deciding what the US would do, with an announcement possible as early as mid-week.

Meanwhile, one of the loudest voices calling for at least some US military involvement - Turkish President Turgut Ozal - became the second head of state to meet with Clinton as president. Mr. Ozal has called for enforcement of the no-fly zone over Bosnia and perhaps allied air strikes on Serbian gun positions to at least break the siege of Bosnian Muslims in Sarajevo.

After his discussions, Mr. Ozal said he expected "a little stronger approach" from the Clinton administration than its Bush predecessor.

Peace talks at the United Nations appeared stalled. Mediators Cyrus Vance, representing the UN, and Lord Owen, representing the European Community, had moved their negotiations with Bosnian Serbs, Muslims, and Croats to New York Feb. 1 in an effort to enlist US pressure for an agreement.

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But the centerpiece of the Vance-Owen plan, a map that would carve Bosnia up into 10 semiautonomous provinces, has been criticized by US officials as both unworkable and a reward for Serbian aggression.

Just who has accepted the Vance-Owen plan, and who hasn't, is a bit confusing.

Bosnian Croats have said "yes" outright. Bosnian Serbs have rejected it, while their main backer, Serbia itself, has said it approves. Bosnia's Muslims have refused to negotiate on the map issue at all, calling instead for a cease-fire and talks on a new constitution.

The US has been cool to the plan despite loud public criticism from Owen. At this point the UN Security Council will probably not produce its own peace plan until after the Clinton administration has weighed in. "We're going to be at it some days," said Lord Owen as he entered a UN meeting late Feb. 8.

In Germany recently to attend a conference, Defense Secretary Les Aspin quietly presented US options to NATO allies.

Points under consideration reportedly include redrawing the Vance-Owen map to make it less of a division of ethnic groups; a larger humanitarian effort; and tighter economic sanctions on the rump state of Yugoslavia, made up of Serbia and Montenegro. Enforcement of the no-fly zone might follow after the new plan is in place.

Some analysts worry that despite peace efforts the war in the former Yugoslavia could continue to spread. In Washington meetings in recent days Turkish leader Ozal has been warning that political solutions to the conflict will inevitably fall apart, and that Kosovo, an ethnic Albanian enclave within Serbia itself, is the Serbs' next target.

If Serbs begin "cleansing" Albanians from Kosovo, Albania itself, as well as Greece and perhaps even Turkey, could be drawn into the fighting. Serbia considers Kosovo, despite its ethnic majority, as an historically Serbian homeland. Some reports have Serb toughs already pushing out Albanian families in northern Kosovo villages.

"Our leverage once something starts in Kosovo is less," says Patrick Glynn, an American Enterprise Institute military analyst. "Kosovo is technically an internal matter for the Serbs."

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