BUDAPEST — Plans to reduce the U.S. troop presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina to about 3,000 will be announced at a NATO ministers meeting today, Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday, but there will have to be American forces in the Balkans for “many years” to come.
“I think there will be decisions made tomorrow to reduce the Bosnian troop level more,” Mr. Powell told reporters aboard his plane en route to the two-day NATO meeting after a five-day tour of Africa.
U.S. troops in Bosnia are being cut back to 3,600 under a previous reduction agreed to recently by NATO. Mr. Powell said another cut was expected, but he could not confirm the final number would be 3,100, as published in some newspaper reports.
Asked for a “timeline” for the total return of all U.S. troops from Kosovo and Bosnia, where peacekeeping has tied down U.S. forces since the 1995 Dayton accord, Mr. Powell said, “I dont think I can.”
“The numbers have been coming down steadily,” he said. “But it will be years” before the Balkans enjoys a really stable peace without the threat of ethnic cleansing.
Mr. Powell said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is eager to bring U.S. troops home from foreign deployments. President Bush had also voiced opposition, during the election campaign, to long-term stationing of U.S. troops on peacekeeping missions in the Balkans.
But Mr. Powell said any force reductions will be undertaken only in coordination with the NATO allies who are shouldering most of the burden in the Balkans now.
“There isnt a big split in the administration,” he said.
He said Mr. Rumsfeld “has been told by the president to try to get our force levels down around the world. But Mr. Rumsfeld and I and the president have all said we are not going to bail out of our commitments (in Bosnia and Kosovo).
“We went in together, and well come out together,” he said, repeating a line he has used before. “We will not shirk our responsibility.”
Mr. Powell said U.S. and other NATO troops remain tied down in part because only 11 out of a planned 19 multinational special police units have been deployed so far. “Ill push for the other eight” units, he said.
A spokesman for Mr. Powell could not confirm a report in the New York Times that the United States was offering Russia a deal to win its acceptance of the Bush plan for a missile defense system to shoot down attacks by rogue states such as Iraq.
The report said Russia would be asked to scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and in return, some of its S-300 ballistic missiles would be purchased for use in a missile shield to protect Europe and Russia from rogue attacks.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov dismissed the reports at a news conference in Moscow, wire services reported.
“If such proposals come — we have not yet received them — I am sure that they will not solve the ABM issue,” he said. “S-300 missiles are air-defense, not anti-space weapons. Russia has sold these missiles to many countries. I cannot link this issue with ABM plans.”
The North Atlantic Council ministerial meeting today and tomorrow includes the 19 foreign ministers of NATO.
Mr. Powell said their closed-door discussions would touch on Macedonia, where the United States and its NATO allies have strongly backed the government in Skopje in its fight against ethnic Albanian rebels mainly clustered along the border of Kosovo.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States supports Macedonias efforts “to stay the course against extremists but keep the political process open to (ethnic) Albanians.”
“We recognize (the Macedonians) have to defend themselves.”
Yesterday, Macedonian tanks blasted targets in a northern village to try to drive out ethnic Albanian guerrillas as Javier Solana, the EUs top diplomat, arrived in the capital hoping to save the national unity government.
Two tanks shelled suspected rebel positions above Matejce, one of a string of a dozen villages controlled by the guerrillas in hilly terrain about 25 miles northeast of Skopje.
Aside from the Balkans, the NAC ministers plan to discuss the European desire to create a separate defense group — the European Strategic Defense Initiative.
“We continue to support ESDI if it includes added capability … and is closely linked to NATO,” Mr. Powell said.
In a sign that Mr. Powells visit to Mali, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda was beginning to bear fruit, Sudans government and the opposition agreed to meet Saturday in Nairobi, Kenya, for the first time in four years to seek an end to their 18-year-old civil war.
A rebel spokesman said the summit would be attended by President Omar Hassan Bashir and by John Garang, leader of the rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Army.
Mr. Powell had called for reconciliation in Sudan while he was in Kenya Saturday, and he dispatched the top U.S. foreign aid official, Andrew Natsios, to return yesterday to Nairobi for meetings with both sides in the war.