WASHINGTON -- The Senate narrowly decided against setting a deadline for the removal of U.S. troops in Kosovo, a move the Clinton administration said would have been a blow to U.S.-NATO relations and the hopes for peace in the Yugoslav province.
In a 53-47 vote Thursday, the Senate deleted language from a military construction spending bill that would have ended U.S. participation in the peacekeeping force on July 1 next year unless the president requested and Congress approved an extension.
The White House threatened to veto the $8.6 billion bill unless the language was removed. Vice President Al Gore, who hopes to be president next year, made a rare appearance in his capacity as president of the Senate to cast a tie-breaking vote if necessary. Gore's move came a day after his presidential rival, Republican George W. Bush, asked Congress to back away from the deadline.
To force an artificial withdrawal, Gore said, would have ''demoralized our allies ... and handed (Yugoslav) President Milosevic a victory that he could not win through military force.''
With the removal of the provision, the military construction bill, which also contains $4.7 billion for emergency funds in Kosovo and anti-drug efforts in Colombia, passed 96-4.
The authors of the withdrawal language, Armed Forces Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said their aim was not to force an end to U.S. involvement in the Kosovo mission but to ensure that European allies were carrying their fair share of the financial burden and that Congress played its proper role in sanctioning the mission.
Their provision also linked funds for Kosovo this year to Europe meeting contribution targets for reconstruction and humanitarian aid. Warner said he would try again to reintroduce this provision when the Senate takes up the 2001 defense authorization bill.
The House version of the defense bill, which passed late Thursday, contains an amendment offered by Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio that requires the president to certify by April 1 next year that European allies are adequately contributing to the rebuilding and policing of the province. Without that, he must present Congress with a plan to end U.S. troop participation.
The administration said it strongly opposed the Kasich amendment, saying it could encourage extremist elements in Kosovo and ''damage the strength and durability of the NATO alliance.''
About 5,900 U.S. troops are part of a 37,000-member NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
The peacekeepers moved in after the 78-day air war to drive Yugoslav troops out of the province ended last June.
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