Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Bosnian Peace Talks Hold Promise, Peril for Clinton

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Bosnian Peace Talks Hold Promise, Peril for Clinton

Article excerpt

AFTER YEARS of trying to stay clear of the deepening Balkan morass, President Bill Clinton seems to have taken on the daunting task of guaranteeing the survival of the precarious country that American diplomats hope to create out of the chaos of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

By agreeing Thursday to play host to Bosnia peace talks, Clinton bound his government tightly to a process that - at best - will produce a country split between bitter ethnic enemies with an economy in tatters.

It is a high-stakes bet that could pay off handsomely for both Clinton and the antagonists. Or it could plunge the United States into the conflict at an unpredictable cost.

"These discussions will look and feel like what you remember from Camp David," State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said in describing the talks. They are scheduled to begin Oct. 30 at a still unselected site in the United States.

The White House said Clinton was unlikely to play the same personal role in the Bosnian talks that President Jimmy Carter assumed during the 1978 negotiations between Israel and Egypt at Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains. But the risks and responsibilities assumed by the United States are similar.

As it did for Egypt and Israel after the 1978 accord, the U.S. government seems ready to take on a new client state that will need years of outside support to survive. But, as in the Israel-Egypt agreement, the Balkan talks could bring peace to an unstable and strategic region and re-establish the U.S. claim to world leadership.

Of course, this is all far down the road. The cease-fire brokered by U.S. peace envoy Richard Holbrooke does not take effect until Tuesday, and the talks, if all goes well, would not start until 15 days after that. But, for the first time in almost four years of warfare, the combatants are at least talking about the possibility of peace.

And the selection of the United States as the venue for the negotiations is a clear signal that both the U.S. mediators and the warring factions believe the cease-fire will hold, a requirement for success at the bargaining table. Staging the talks in the United States magnifies their visibility, a step that the Clinton administration and the antagonists would be unlikely to take unless they expected success. …

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