- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2000

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia U.S. aid to Yugoslavia will start to be tied to specific concerns such as cooperation with international war crimes prosecutors after April 1, President Clinton's Balkan envoy, James O'Brien, told reporters yesterday.
Congress last week approved $189 million for the country, nearly evenly split between the two republics of Serbia and Montenegro. For the time being, that aid has no strings attached, Mr. O'Brien said.
But starting in April, that aid will depend on the cooperation of the new government of President Vojislav Kostunica, he said. That means allowing investigators from the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague to have access in Yugoslavia and assisting in the apprehension of war-crimes suspects.
"This is part of a being a normal state in the international community," Mr. O'Brien told a small group of foreign reporters in the United States' temporary offices in a luxury hotel here. The U.S. Embassy has been shuttered since it was vandalized and looted during the NATO bombing raids here last year.
Mr. O'Brien arrived in Belgrade on Tuesday and has met with Mr. Kostunica, Prime Minister Zoran Zizic and other top political figures as well as media and independent nongovernmental organizations.
"It was a normal and intensive exchange between countries that have got a working relationship," he said.
The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since the United States and other NATO countries bombed Serbia to stop Yugoslav army repression of ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo.
Mr. Kostunica took power last month after he defeated former President Slobodan Milosevic and massive crowds in Belgrade stormed parliament to force Mr. Milosevic to accept the results.
The new government has said it is ready to resume relations with the United States and with France, Germany and Great Britain. Mr. O'Brien said that only technical issues remain to be resolved before that happens, and that once the Yugoslav government acts, it could happen any day.
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic has said the resumption of relations with the United States will happen soon, possibly this month.
Almost immediately after Mr. Kostunica came to power, the international community began pressing him to turn Mr. Milosevic over to the international court. Mr. Kostunica argues that his government faces more immediate problems, and that ultimately the former president should be tried in Yugoslavia for his crimes against the country's citizens.
Mr. O'Brien said the United States does not object to Mr. Milosevic being tried in Yugoslavia.
"Our point is that there are other victims such as Kosovar Albanians," he said. "Those victims also deserve their day in court."
In his first month in power, Mr. Kostunica has faced domestic criticism that too many members of the former regime remain in power. Mr. Kostunica, a constitutional lawyer, has emphasized the need for gradual reform, and Mr. O'Brien said the United States respects that.
"The international community recognizes that there need to be some compromises in order to consolidate democracy," he said. "But we'll be looking at important figures to make sure they're dedicated to carrying out the democratic will of the people."
Mr. O'Brien also downplayed the possibility that a new administration in the United States could change its policy toward the Balkans. Texas Gov. George W. Bush has caused consternation in the region by suggesting that the American involvement in peacekeeping here ought to be scaled back.

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