WASHINGTON (AP) - Congress is sending the wrong message to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by moving to cut off funds for U.S. peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, the Clinton administration said Wednesday.
The White House and State Department issued statements challenging an amendment to the military construction bill that would cut off funds for the continued deployment of 5,900 U.S. troops in the Serbian province beyond July 1, 2001, unless President Clinton or his successor obtains congressional authorization to continue deployment.
The measure also requires Clinton to develop a plan to shift responsibility to the European allies for providing ground troops in Kosovo.
Overall, there are 37,000 peacekeeping troops in Kosovo, most of them provided by U.S. allies.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said the amendment ``potentially sends the wrong message to enemies of what we did there (Kosovo). It is a mess and it's time for the Senate Republicans to show some leadership.''
At the State Department, spokesman Philip Reeker said, ``We believe that the proposed legislation sends the wrong message to Milosevic and those who oppose NATO's actions.''
A year ago, Reeker said, the United States and its allies succeeded in reversing ``ethnic cleansing'' in the province, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have been able to return to their homes.
``But, much work remains to be done to secure the peace in Kosovo,'' he said. ``Progress is definitely being made. Our troops together with those of our allies in other countries are working very hard to meet that challenge, and they deserve our continued support.''
The amendment was approved 23-3 Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee. It reflects concern among legislators with an open-ended deployment of American soldiers.
``We want to continue working with Congress to achieve legislation that provides flexibility to respond to changing situations, to give the president the necessary authority that he needs to tailor our actions to meet foreign policy goals and national security objectives,'' Reeker said.