Associated Press

March 24, 1997

Bosnia Leader Visits Pentagon

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic said Monday the United States has failed to complete the arming and training of his country's military and accused rebel Serbs of ignoring arms reduction agreements.

In his first visit to the Pentagon, Izetbegovic also said that a way to ensure that U.S. troops can leave Bosnia in mid-1998 would be to admit Bosnia into NATO's Partnership for Peace.

Izetbegovic told Defense Secretary William Cohen that rebel Serbs were ignoring the arms reduction agreement reached in Vienna last year that imposed sweeping heavy weapons reductions among the warring factions in Bosnia.

Izetbegovic's charge has been backed up by independent observers. Last fall, the chief arms control negotiator for the region identified ``serious discrepancies'' in Bosnian Serb compliance with the Vienna agreement. The arms control pact was signed last June by the Bosnian government, the Bosnian Serbs, Bosnia's Muslim-Croat Federation, Croatia and what is left of Yugoslavia.

U.S. officials have said that the program to equip and train Bosnia's forces as a deterrent against a resumption of war is on track. Izetbegovic said that only 20 percent of the program has been implemented.

Echoing repeated calls by the Bosnian government, Izetbegovic said the United States and its NATO allies should press for the apprehension of accused war criminals and that until senior Bosnian Serb leaders wanted for war crimes are sent before an international tribunal, there can be no peace in Bosnia.

Izetbegovic demonstrated a clear awareness of the key U.S. pressure point on Bosnia: the need to ensure a timely pullout of U.S. troops next year. All of the various points he made to Cohen were framed as providing the best way to meet the withdrawal schedule.

Cohen has underscored from the beginning of his tenure that the United States will pull its 8,500 soldiers out of Bosnia by mid-1998. After that, it will be up to the Bosnians and other European countries to preserve peace. The troops are part of a 30,000-member NATO peace Sustainment Force, or SFOR.

Partnership for Peace membership for Bosnia seems unlikely given that it is a potential precursor to NATO membership and NATO allies are being extremely careful about considering only stable, economically sound democracies for membership.

But the new pressure from Bosnia to join the PFP appears to be yet another attempt to gain leverage from the NATO desire to pull out of Bosnia on schedule. The Bosnians are arguing that PFP membership would provide the country with a framework for continued contact with Western militaries that could ensure peace without the long-term stationing of a buffer force.

Izetbegovic met earlier Monday with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.