President Clinton has given the go-ahead for a secret bid to topple the regime of Slobodan Milosevic and shatter what is left of federal Yugoslavia.
Clinton's approval for a campaign to remove President Milosevic came at the end of a week in which the United States put a bounty of $5 million on the heads of his two puppets in Bosnia, the indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic.
The push for active intervention against Milosevic comes from several quarters, including the White House, where the destruction of Milosevic's regime has been discussed by Clinton's national security team, including the CIA and its opposite number in the Pentagon, the Defence Intelligence Agency. One former senior DIA official, who has been involved in the Balkans for several years, told The Observer that: "As of the past few days, the activation of a policy of the end of Milosevic and his power in Yugoslavia is very much on the table."
Other sources talked about a "major review meeting" in recent days to discuss a vigorous new policy to hasten a conclusion to the Yugoslav crisis, with "the end of Milosevic as the obvious solution". One White House source said: "Clinton is doing this right now, and it's beginning at a local level."
The focus is now on helping Montenegrin efforts to break away from Belgrade and on aiding the Opposition within Serbia. Clinton is reported to have asked discussion group last week: "Would an independent Kosovo work?" Support for such a move would mark a dramatic about-turn, since diplomatic efforts have centred on keeping Milosevic in power and ignoring calls for Kosovo's independence.
State Department officials told The Observer that the prime mover of the new policy was the President's special envoy to the region, Richard Gelbardt, who is said to have privately argued that the time has come for the US to help to get rid of Milosevic.
The sacking by Milosevic last week of Yugoslav army chief of staff Momcilo Perisic, part of the inner sanctum of the President's security staff, is said by State Department officials to be connected to the fact that Perisic had told Milosevic that he would play no part in any police or military move against a Montenegrin bid for independence. There is even a suggestion that Perisic had discussed a possible Montenegrin secession with US diplomats.
The CIA has installed newly invigorated "analytical structures" in former and current Yugoslav republics in recent weeks. Driving the DIA's thinking is the fear that "continued power for Milosevic means an interminable US presence in the region". Observers in Belgrade are waiting to see what Perisic and Milosevic's former spy master, Jovica Stanisic - who was also dismissed last month - will do next. Both are seen as likely opponents of Milosevic with real influence compared to Belgrade's weak and disparate opposition politicians.
They are also close to Montenegrin leader Milo Djukanovic,who is seen as pro-Western and a possible contender to replace Milosevic. Djukanovic, who runs Montenegro as his personal fiefdom, has criticised Milosevic loudly over Kosovo.
As a member of federal Yugoslavia's Supreme Defence Council, he reportedly voted against Perisic's dismissal. He has also allowed newspapers closed down in Belgrade to print in the regional capital, Podgorica.