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Monday, March 15, 1999 Published at 10:29 GMT

World: Europe

Analysis: Kosovo talks rematch

Rambouillet negotiations ended inconclusively

By South East Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

The Contact Group had originally envisaged that last month's talks at Rambouillet would produce an agreement on Kosovo's future within one or, at the most, two weeks. But after repeated extensions of the deadline, the negotiations ended inconclusively.

The Contact Group then convened a second round of talks, primarily to get agreement on the implementation of the deal that the two sides had reportedly accepted in principle.

Kosovo Section
The talks resumed on 15 March. But to avoid a repetition of previous embarrassment over the failure to meet various deadlines, this time no-one has publicly mentioned a timetable.

However, officials among the Contact Group countries have indicated that they do not see any point in the talks being dragged out. Rather, they expect the meeting in Paris to be concluded within a week - with or without an agreement.

Increasing diplomatic efforts

[ image: Clashes have undermined hopes for an agreement]
Clashes have undermined hopes for an agreement
The British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, made it clear, that diplomatic efforts would be intensified to get the proposed deal signed.

And there is a great need for such pressure if the talks are to succeed. That is because in some crucially important respects peace appears to be no nearer now than it was at the end of the Rambouillet talks.

President Milosevic remains adamant that Serbia will not accept foreign troops in Kosovo to help implement the settlement. And there is little expectation that the Serbian strongman is prepared to relent unless there is a credible threat that Nato might launch air strikes against Serbian targets to try to change his mind.

Nato's hands are tied

But Nato needs to remain impartial; and until the Kosovar Albanians sign up to the deal, Nato cannot even start to wield the big stick in an attempt to help bring about peace.

Nato's Supreme Commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, says: "We are concerned because we have not received word that the Kosovo Albanians will sign the agreement - of course this is an essential part of it - and until they sign, the full weight of international community pressure will not be available to be applied to President Milosevic, and he's very much aware of this."

[ image: The KLA has still not put its name to the deal]
The KLA has still not put its name to the deal
At Rambouillet, the Kosovar Albanian team gave an ambiguously-worded promise that it would sign the agreement within two weeks after consultations at home. But the two weeks have passed and the KLA is still holding back.

That has brought out into the open the continuing disagreements among the ethnic Albanians. Two members of the ethnic Albanian negotiating delegation, Veton Surroi and Bujar Bukoshi, have accused the KLA of playing into Belgrade's hands by its reluctance to deliver its signature.

Delay helps Milosevic

President Milosevic has, indeed, gained a breathing space thanks, in part, to the Kosovar Albanians' delay in formally accepting the interim agreement. Since the ethnic Albanians know that the only way they can turn the heat on Mr Milosevic is through signing up, their delay may simply be part of last-minute brinkmanship.

But even if the KLA finally gives its seal of approval and President Milosevic persists in his opposition to a Nato-led peace implementation force, there is still going to be a time lag between Nato's threats and the actual launch of possible air strikes.

The Contact Group remains divided: Russia opposes any use of force as advocated by the US and Britain; and the other members of the group remain ambivalent. Meanwhile, some diplomats believe that serious negotiations with Mr Milosevic can only succeed when he believes that Nato planes might be close to take-off for action against Serbian targets.

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