House OKs Troops In Kosovo

After a contentious debate, the House voted bipartisan support late Thursday for President Clinton's Kosovo policy, turning back a Republican-led effort to oppose sending U.S. troops there as peacekeepers if needed.

Mr. Clinton had warned that such a restriction, even though nonbinding, could have jeopardized already-endangered peace talks. They're scheduled to resume in Paris Monday on a plan to offer independence-minded ethnic Albanians autonomy in the Serb province.

The House voted 219-191 for a resolution expressing general support for the administration's use of U.S. troops, if necessary, as part of a NATO peacekeeping operation.

The president, en route to Washington from a four-day trip to Central American, issued a statement just before Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force base in which he said the vote "demonstrates the broad bipartisan support for our efforts to bring peace to Kosovo.

"This vote sends a clear message to both parties that it's time now to sign an agreement that stops the fighting in Kosovo and creates real self government for the Kosovar people," Mr. Clinton said. "The vote confirms the strong commitment of the United States to continue our efforts to provide the leadership necessary to bring about a peaceful resolution to this conflict."

The House attached some strings, however, urging Mr. Clinton to report to Congress on how long such a deployment would last, how much it would cost and whether it would affect overall military readiness.

"People in my district want to know the exit strategy," said Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., "Getting answers from the administration is part of our job."

Final approval came after the House turned aside, on a 237-178 vote, a proposal by Rep. Tillie Fowler, R-Fla., to protest any American troop engagement in the war-torn Serbian province.

Earlier, Mr. Clinton, in Guatemala for a meeting of Central American leaders, said he thought the debate was premature, since the peace agreement had not yet been achieved.

But GOP leaders brushed aside a Democratic plea for a postponement. "Congress must have a meaningful role in this decision," Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., asserted.

Hastert voted yes on final passage of the resolution. He did not vote on the amendment to oppose troop deployments.

Mr. Clinton has proposed sending up to 4,000 Americans to Kosovo as part of a 28,000-member NATO peacekeeping force if an agreement is reached to end the yearlong war in the southern Serbian province.

At this stage, however, neither the ethnic Albanian nor Serb side has agreed to sign such an agreement. U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke returned from Belgrade on Thursday after failing to persuade Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accept foreign troops in Serb-ruled Kosovo.

Still remaining before the House were several amendments to impose various reporting requirements on the presidet, asking for a timetable and cost estimates.