Negotiator Or 'Balkan Thug'?

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is bringing a letter from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to President Clinton with some ideas that might help break the logjam, reports CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Scott Pelley. However, that is being seen with a great deal of skepticism at the White House.

One of the notions in the letter reportedly is that President Clinton and Milosevic should meet. But a senior White House official Sunday morning said that is "ridiculous" and such a meeting could not happen.

"As for the alleged contents of this letter, which I haven't seen yet, it sounds very much like a P.R. stunt on Milosevic's part," says U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. To end the conflict right away, he added, Milosevic must first meet the conditions that NATO has laid out.

"And those conditions are, first and foremost, that the refugees have to come homeÂ…and that's going to be possible only if he pulls his forces out of Kosovo and [allows] an international force, with NATO at its core, to go in," Talbott says.

He made his comments Sunday morning on CBS News Face the Nation during an interview with Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer and CBS News Consultant Gloria Borger.

While he had not yet seen the letter, Talbott said, "We have a pretty good idea what's in it, not least because of an interview Milosevic gave during the course of the week. It's essentially a publicity stunt, another cynical ploy to try to have this thing end in his way, which means with him and the Belgrade regime in control of Kosovo. That's not going to happen. NATO's conditions are immutable, they're non-negotiable, and they're going to be achieved, and we're going to keep up the bombing until we achieve them."

Borger asked Talbott why he thinks Milosevic released the POWs. Did he do it to embarrass the president, or is this a sign that he's getting a little nervous?

"Good question, and the answer is: We don't know," Talbott says. "We'll have to see how this plays out."

Should NATO respond with some kind of return gesture to Milosevic?

"Bad idea," Talbott says. "Milosevic is an absolute master manipulator in this kind of game."

Talbott also told Schieffer and Borger, "The United States is not negotiating with Mr. Milosevic right now. We are bombing Mr. Milosevic and his regime and military targets."


CBS
Sen. John McCain

Another guest on Face the Nation also views Milosevic's actions with a jaundiced eye.

"I hopno American has any doubt that Mr. Milosevic has not become a Boy Scout," says Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., himself a former POW. "If he were, the fact is that he would have stopped this ethnic cleansing, the terrible atrocities, the greatest we've seen in Europe since World War II, and he would respect the rights of those citizens and agree to our legitimate demands."

However, the senator says, he does not wish to dismiss the success of Jackson's mission.

"I'm grateful for Rev. Jackson's efforts. We all are," says McCain. "But Mr. Milosevic remains a Balkan thug who is willing to do whatever is necessary - including the slaughter, rape and ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of people. If Mr. Milosevic wants to improve his image, he can start to return these people to their homes."

Like Talbott, McCain remains skeptical of Milosevic's intentions in releasing the three U.S. soldiers.

"I think it's his attempt the weaken the NATO alliance, get the support of the American people, and get the settlement now," says the senator. "I think it's more than just a publicity stunt, but it's very cynical."