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Powell: Aid to Belgrade May Be in Jeopardy - 2002-03-18

Secretary of State Colin Powell has faulted the Yugoslav government for its lack of cooperation with the U.N. war crimes tribunal, and he warned that U.S. reconstruction aid to Belgrade may be in jeopardy. Mr. Powell spoke after meeting Monday with the chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte.

Emerging to talk to reporters after their meeting, both Mr. Powell and the U.N. chief prosecutor were critical of Belgrade's degree of support for the Balkans tribunal at The Hague, and Mr. Powell said he may not authorize delivery of $40 million in U.S. reconstruction aid, if its performance does not improve.

Ms. Del Ponte said the tribunal has had "a lot of difficulties with Belgrade" concerning the arrest of indicted fugitives still at large, the most notable among them being the wartime former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief, Ratko Mladic.

Mr. Powell also cited shortcomings in the court's access to archival materials in Yugoslavia and the enactment of internal laws there to facilitate the court's work.

The secretary of state said he told Ms. Del Ponte the Bush administration will "re-double" its efforts to get the needed cooperation, and noted that he faces an end-of-the-month deadline from Congress to certify whether Belgrade has been supportive enough to merit delivery of the aid money.

"I will examine the total situation and see how it is consistent or inconsistent with the law that I have to certify under, and whether good faith efforts, as well as performance, have taken place. And that's what I will do, just as I did last year," he said. "And if they're not deserving they won't get it, and if they are, they will. And they know what they have to do, and we'll keep the pressure on."

Mr. Powell's consideration of the aid package comes amid tensions with Belgrade over last week's arrest and overnight detention by Yugoslav military police of a U.S. diplomat, who had been meeting at a restaurant with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Momcilo Periscic.

Both the diplomat and the Serbian politician were detained for a number of hours amid allegations of spying, in an affair that drew an angry U.S. protest and sparked a political furor in Belgrade.

However, at a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Belgrade authorities have apologized for the treatment of the U.S. official, and he minimized the damage to bilateral relations.

"We have received a formal apology from Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic. We've accepted that apology," he said. "We view it as a public acknowledgment of the military's inappropriate and excessive actions. And we now consider this closed as a bilateral issue."

Secretary of State Powell said in his meeting with Ms. Del Ponte, he raised the issue of an "exit strategy" for the U.N. tribunals, a reference to the Bush administration's public call last month for a closing date for both the Balkans and Rwandan prosecutions by 2008.

U.S. officials have been critical of both the cost and pace of work at the two tribunals, though Mr. Powell, with Ms. Del Ponte alongside him at the press appearance, said she can count on U.S. support "every step of the way" until her work is finished.