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House votes to join curb on U.S. role in Kosovo

The House on Wednesday joined the Senate in seeking to limit the involvement of U.S. ground troops in the Kosovo peacekeeping mission. The administration warns that such restrictions are a threat both to peace in Kosovo and NATO's future.

In a bipartisan 264-153 vote, the House said the president must certify by April 1 that European allies have met their financial commitments to the program to rebuild Kosovo. Without that certification, the president would have 30 days to submit a plan for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Of west-central Florida representatives, only Jim Davis, D-Tampa, voted against the measure.

It's time to send a strong message to European allies, said Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, leader of a bipartisan group sponsoring the amendment to a defense authorization bill the House will vote on this week.

On the Senate side, a military construction spending bill now on the floor would require U.S. troops to leave Kosovo by July 1, 2001, unless the president requests and Congress approves an extension.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., sponsor of the provision with Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., says it is time to recognize that Congress, which has the constitutional power of the purse, deserves an equal role in determining U.S. policy.

But Defense Secretary William Cohen said Tuesday that a self-imposed deadline for the withdrawal of American peacekeeping troops would precipitate similar pullouts by European nations, setting the stage for more violence in Kosovo and calling into question NATO's viability.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also warned Wednesday that any "premature" withdrawal would be interpreted in the Balkans as a sign of weakness: "We cannot afford that in a region where weakness attracts vultures."

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the likely Republican presidential nominee, has opposed the Senate plan as "legislative overreach."

Cohen has said he would recommend that President Clinton veto the $8.6-billion military construction bill, which also contains $4.7-billion in emergency funds for U.S. operations in Kosovo and anti-drug efforts in Colombia, if the Warner-Byrd language is not removed.

About 5,900 U.S. troops are in the NATO-led, 37,000-strong peacekeeping force stationed in Kosovo since the 78-day air war to drive Yugoslav troops out of the province ended in June.