Berger rules out power-sharing role for Milosevic

Friday, October 6th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Clinton administration Friday ruled out any political role in Yugoslavia for Slobodan Milosevic. ``This is something we cannot support,'' said Sandy Berger, the U.S. national security adviser.

``He is still an indicted war criminal and has to be accountable, we believe, for his actions,'' Berger said in an interview.

``The first step in the process is removing him from power. I would not want to see him playing a role in Serb political affairs,'' said Berger, who is President Clinton's senior security aide.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who met with Milosevic, suggested that Milosevic might seek to remain in the country. ``He said he intends to play a prominent role in the political life of the country,'' Ivanov said.

Russia, which has been sympathetic to Milosevic, acknowledged Friday that opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica won the Yugoslav presidency in the Sept. 24 election.

The next step, Berger said, should be to encourage Milosevic to move out of the way.

``There is nothing to mediate here; Kostunica won the election; he demonstrated that clearly,'' Berger said. ``Our conversations with the Russians have been encouraging them to recognize that reality and not that they find some way to mediate and split the differences between Milosevic and Kostunica.''

White House spokesman Jake Siewert said the United States will not support any effort to provide asylum for Milosevic. ``We are not proposing a deal, we are not encouraging a deal, and we would not endorse or support any such deal,'' Siewert said.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made plain that not all of Kostunica's views are in accord with the Clinton administration's.

But, she said at an afternoon news conference, Kostunica is not a former communist and he does not believe in ethnic cleansing and devastating the rights of people who are not ethnic Serbs.

``We look forward to establishing a perfectly normal relationship with the new Kostunica government,'' she said.

``We are talking to the Europeans now on how to proceed'' in lifting sanctions, she told reporters at the State Department. ``We are very aware of being careful.''

But, she added, the United States intends to make good on its promise to the Serb people. ``Our sanctions regime is not against the people of Serbia, it was against Milosevic.''

Earlier, Albright welcomed Russia's decision to back Kostunica after long years of support for Milosevic.

``This is great news,'' Albright said, giving a thumbs up, after receiving word of the Russian action as she carried out a series of morning television interviews.

Even though there has been no formal transfer of power in Yugoslavia, she referred to Kostunica as ``President Kostunica.'' The White House recognized Kostunica as well.

``He is the president, and we look forward to working with him and his government,'' said spokesman Jake Siewert. He said the United States would work with European nations to remove sanctions against Yugoslavia ``once it is clear that Milosevic is gone.''

Albright said she had no information on Milosevic's whereabouts but another official said there was some evidence that he might be at a retreat near Yugoslavia's border with Romania.

``The Russian recognition of President Kostunica is very, very important because they have always had a very special relationship with the Serbian people,'' Albright told CNN.

She added that the United States and its European allies will give assistance to the new Yugoslavia ``so that it can be reconstructed and they can have the normal life that the rest of ... the Balkans are beginning to have.''

On Thursday, Clinton also talked about a return to normal relations with Yugoslavia.

Once democracy is restored, he said, ``We will move as quickly as possible to lift the sanctions and build the kind of responsible partnership that the people there deserve.''

He spoke after hundreds of thousands of people swarmed through the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade to demand that Milosevic accept his apparent defeat by Kostunica.

Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., a member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he supports transition assistance for Yugoslavia.

``Help in those first days (of a new government) could be important,'' said Grams.

Clinton administration officials have acknowledged spending millions of dollars over the past year to support the Serbian opposition, independent radio, human rights groups and others working for democracy in Yugoslavia. But they have denied that any money went to the presidential campaign of opposition leaders.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., also a Foreign Relations Committee member, said it is important that Serb opposition get credit for their own efforts against Milosevic and not be seen as instruments of the United States or other international opponents of Milosevic.

``We have to be cautious,'' Biden said. ``It is critically important that Kostunica be viewed as independent of any outside source and a product of the world of the Serbian people.''

Biden has introduced a Senate resolution saying that if Kostunica became president, the United States would lift sanctions, immediately and then incrementally ``to help bring the Serbian people and the Serbian government back into the family of nations.''