March 17, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. State Department announced Wednesday it is inviting members of the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team at the peace talks in Paris to visit Washington.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sent department spokesman James Rubin to Paris to issue the invitation.
Albright asked Rubin to meet with the head of the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team, Hashim Thaci, and "convey on her behalf an invitation to the members of the Kosovar Albanian delegation to travel to Washington, which we expect to happen at the close of this round of talks in Paris," said deputy State Department spokesman James Foley.
"We want to develop a good relationship with them as they transform themselves into a politically oriented organization under a Kosovo living in peace, under the terms of the interim accord," said Foley.
Meanwhile, the White House expressed grave concern Wednesday about large-scale Serbian troop movements in and near Kosovo and warned the Serbs not to launch an offensive against ethnic Albanians.
White House Deputy National Security Adviser James Steinberg said NATO was "prepared to take actions" in response, as peace talks in Paris teetered on the brink of collapse.
Steinberg and Foley said there were two triggers for NATO military action -- a refusal by the Serbs to agree to a Kosovo peace deal, and an armed offensive against the Kosovo Albanians.
"And on both scores, we are seeing increasing evidence that the Serbs are meeting the criteria for triggering a NATO response," Foley said.
The United States has repeatedly warned Serbia about the possibility of NATO airstrikes, and its latest threat could fall on deaf ears in Belgrade.
But with large numbers of Serbian troops and equipment giving the appearance of an offensive being prepared, this time NATO might carry out the threat.
"We're obviously very concerned about what we're seeing in terms of military movements by Serbia," Steinberg told reporters. He said U.S. concern was conveyed to the Serbian government by American diplomatic personnel in Belgrade.
The State Department said international monitors reported the Serbs continued moving reinforcements into Kosovo overnight and that just outside Kosovo, the Serbs had positioned 18,000 to 21,000 troops.
Significant troop movements were reported along the Albanian border, on the road to the Macedonian border and near Pristina, Kosovo's capital.
International monitors for the Kosovo Verification Mission observed a train Tuesday bringing into Kosovo a large Serb armored element, including seven T-72-type tanks.
They also said additional tanks were positioned near Podujevo, indicating that two armored brigades had deployed in the province, said Foley.
He called the troop movements a clear violation of an agreement last October with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic that headed off NATO airstrikes at the time.
Steinberg said Milosevic "just needs to understand very clearly that if he continues to use massive repression against the people there, that NATO has authority to act."
David Leavy, spokesman for the National Security Council, said, "If their intransigence or continued aggression undermines the peace process or a political settlement, they will be held accountable."
State Department Producer Sharona Schwartz and Reuters contributed to this report.
Serbs 'bracing for war,' Pentagon says
Kosova Crisis Center
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