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Bartlett to meet with Russians

April 29, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who spent his first six years in Congress without making an official overseas trip, left Thursday for his second visit to Europe in six weeks.

Bartlett, R-Md., joined nine other members of Congress on a mission to Vienna, Austria, for talks with members of the Russian Duma on the war in Serbia.

"I think that it is essential that we use every opportunity to try to bring this problem in Kosovo to a satisfactory resolution," he said during a conference call with reporters before he left.

The United States and its NATO allies have been bombing targets in Yugoslavia for five weeks in an attempt to halt Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

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The trip has been authorized by the House Armed Services Committee and the Clinton administration. Andre Lewis, a State Department official, will meet the group in Vienna.

Although the congressional delegation does not have the power to negotiate an agreement, Bartlett said he hopes it will provide a framework for peace. That could include a return of Kosovars to their home and perhaps a Russian peacekeeping force, he said.

Russia is important, both because of its close ties to Serbia and its large stockpile of nuclear weapons, Bartlett said.

"We have every reason to embrace Russia," he said.

The group, made up of five Republicans, four Democrats and Vermont Independent Bernard Sanders, will arrive in the Austrian capital at about 8:45 a.m. today Austrian time.

Bartlett said the talks, which begin at noon, have no specific time frame. An envoy from Milosevic will attend the talks but will not formally participate.

The delegation is expected to return on Sunday.

"We just go where the discussions lead," Bartlett said.

Bartlett, who voted on Wednesday against a resolution supporting the bombing campaign and for a measure urging Clinton to seek congressional approval before deploying ground troops, reiterated his opposition to American involvement in the conflict.

He said the aims of the air war have largely failed. What's more, Bartlett said, atrocities have been committed by both the Serbs and the Kosovars.

Bartlett said it is morally wrong to launch an aggressive military campaign against a country that has not attacked the United States or threatened its vital interests.

"We renamed our War Department the Defense Department a long time ago. Maybe we need to change the name back to War Department," he said.

Bartlett made his first official trip on March 13 to Moscow to explain to Russian legislators America's position on missile defense. Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., who led that mission, asked Bartlett to participate in this one, also.

"I don't travel. I don't really like to travel," he said. "But this, I thought, was important."

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