U.S., Russia extend talks on Russian role in KFOR
Effort to break deadlock to resume Friday
June 17, 1999
After about 12 hours of talks in the Finnish capital, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen emerged to say the two sides would continue efforts to find a solution.
"We have made great progress today and resolved a lot of outstanding issues, but we have not yet finalized an agreement," Cohen said.
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev was also upbeat.
"We have optimism to reach agreement at our level in order to have something to report to our presidents," he said.
The meeting was adjourned shortly after midnight and set to resume Friday morning.
Cohen submitted a "detailed proposal" for Russia's review earlier Thursday, the second day of the Helsinki talks. A senior Defense Department official said the proposal is aimed at resolving the last outstanding issue between the United States and Russia, but the official would not say what the sticking point was.
Other U.S. officials said the talks have foundered on a Russian demand for control of a separate zone in Kosovo. That is a demand that NATO countries, which lead the KFOR mission, have refused.
Cohen and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright are leading the U.S. delegation in Helsinki in talks with their Russian counterparts -- Sergeyev and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
Those close to the talks said the plan Cohen presented does not create a new sector for the Russians. U.S. officials would not say if they were optimistic about the prospects for reaching an agreement Thursday.
"Both sides want to reach an agreement," one said. "That much is clear from these talks."
Among the topics in Helsinki was the contingent of about 200 Russian troops that moved unexpectedly into Kosovo early Saturday, taking control of Pristina's airport.
According to the Russians, the Helsinki talks have settled the question of Russia's role at the airport. But U.S. officials said the issues have to be settled as a whole, not one by one.
The Russians have kept NATO from setting up a planned base at the airfield, but British troops around the airport have kept them supplied with food and water, said Adm. Ian Garnett, Britain's chief of joint operations.
Russia, which is not a NATO member, also has balked at placing its troops under a NATO commander, British Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson said.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin said in Moscow that Russia would not drop its demand that Russian peacekeepers control their own sector and he relayed that stance when he spoke by telephone with Sergeyev.
"In principle, most of the issues have been resolved peacefully," Yeltsin said in comments broadcast on television. "But one question, which I would undoubtedly call the principal one, is sectors. In other words, they don't want to give Russia a sector."
In Paris, U.S. President Bill Clinton was still predicting a "successful conclusion" to the talks Thursday.
"The atmosphere is pretty positive and pretty hopeful," Clinton said on the lawn of Elysee Palace after a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac.
Sergeyev struck an optimistic tone as well, predicting that differences about Russian participation would be resolved by the weekend.
"We're moving in the right direction," Sergeyev said. "Along every road, we made a different progress."
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