The U.S. stroke-before-midnight diplomatic attempt to get Slobodan Milosevic to halt his assault on Kosovar Albanians leads all around and provides the material for many collateral stories. All the papers report that if the talks don’t quickly yield a Serbian stand-down, NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia are likely. The picture on the New York Times front of U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke jawboning with Milosevic over a table of light refreshments belies the urgency of the situation. Holbrooke told the Yugoslav president that NATO would attack him if he didn’t stop, and Milosevic replied that anyone who interferes with force will suffer consequences.
The papers make it clear that Holbrooke is not negotiating with Milosevic in any ordinary sense. He’s not, says the Washington Post, entertaining counterproposals. As the NYT puts it, he is “under orders not to let Serbia delay NATO action while Kosovo burns.” USA Today goes high with Holbrooke’s assessment: “We are on the brink of military action.” The hard-shell diplomacy is dictated by Milosevic’s current offensive and his track record, the papers explain. The Wall Street Journal notes, for instance, that this is third time in six months that NATO has threatened to bomb Serbia over its offensive in Kosovo and that the two previous times, Milosevic escaped NATO airstrikes by making last-minute concessions, which he then reneged on. The papers apparently assume that it goes without saying, because their leads don’t say it, but this was Milosevic’s m.o. in Bosnia as well.
All the papers say something about what’s in store for Milosevic’s forces if he doesn’t say uncle. Los Angeles Times and WP say some 400 NATO planes are in position and talk of cruise missiles. But the WSJ has by far the most detail, saying that the military response will begin with cruise missiles fired from six Navy ships in the Adriatic, and from B-52s flying above them. Subsequent action would include, says the paper, F-117 radar-evading attack jets from a base in Northern Italy going against Serb radars and communications, and perhaps for the first time ever, B-2 stealth bombers. What–no launch times? Is it a good idea to publish this much detail about an impending operation?
The Journal says there will be a short pause in the NATO fighting once it starts, until military targets are destroyed, whereas the NYT says there will not be. The WSJ detects dissension in the military ranks, quoting one source who says the joint chiefs are unhappy with a military intervention in Kosovo because they are worried about the “endgame.” This has also been a frequent concern of members of congress in their Kosovo debate, slated to continue today. The LAT has Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s remark that President Clinton has no legal authority to commit U.S. planes to a NATO operation without specific approval from Congress, as well as her endgame question: “What if there is an American POW? What then?”