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PARIS: For Europe, the Kosovo peace talks at Rambouillet will be a crucial test of its ability to act on the post-Cold War diplomatic sta...

PARIS: For Europe, the Kosovo peace talks at Rambouillet will be a crucial test of its ability to act on the post-Cold War diplomatic stage dominated by the United States.

Chaired by France and Britain, with German support, the negotiations that open on Saturday will also give the European Union a chance to fast-forward its efforts to build a common foreign and security policy.

The French and British have already shown that coherence and determination can produce some results. They convinced the United States and Russia — their partners in the Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia, along with Germany and Italy — to accept the Rambouillet strategy of intense, closed-door negotiations, backed up by the threat of NATO attacks and sanctions.

They have also secured the participation of all key players in the Kosovo conflict — the Belgrade authorities, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and moderate Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova.

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“Franco-British diplomatic `forcing’, military commitments, puttinginto place a new order — these are signs of political renewal on the continent,” said Jean-Paul Dufour of the French journal Defense, writing in the Liberation newspaper.

France and Britain laid the basis of a European defence identity with a landmark security agreement at Saint Malo, France last December that envisioned a Europe that could act militarily without US involvement.

That said, however, US involvement is still deemed necessary. To the satisfaction of French diplomats, US policy-makers are talking of contributing as many as 4,000 US troops to a NATO ground force in Kosovo, if an agreement comes out of the Rambouillet talks.

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French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, who will co-chair the talks with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, said an all-European force was “not desirable”.

“We are not yet at a stage of European defence,” he said. “The political and diplomatic work is continuing.” There still remains the risk of division between the Europeans andWashington.

The blueprint that is being presented at Rambouillet was drawn up by the United States’ Kosovo envoy Christopher Hill, who has been shuttling for months between Belgrade and the various Kosovo Albanian sides.

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It calls for substantial autonomy for Kosovo, subject to review after three years — an idea that falls short of the independence demanded by Rugova and by the KLA guerrillas.

It also has to be noted that the format of the talks at Rambouillet is inspired by the intense three weeks of negotiations at the Dayton, Ohio Air Force base that resulted in the agreement that halted the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

First published on: 06-02-1999 at 12:00:00 am
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