The Rambouillet Agreement was a proposed peace agreement between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and a delegation representing the Albanian majority population of Kosovo. It was drafted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and named for the Château de Rambouillet, where it was initially proposed in early 1999. The significance of the agreement lies in the fact that Yugoslavia refused to accept it, which NATO used as justification to start its intervention in the Kosovo War. Belgrade's rejection was based on the argument that the agreement contained provisions for Kosovo's autonomy that went further than the Serbian and Yugoslav governments saw as reasonable.
The biggest problem for both sides was that the Albanians were unwilling to accept a solution that would retain Kosovo as part of Serbia, whilst the Serbs did not want to see the pre-1990 status quo restored, and they were implacably opposed to any international role in the governance of the province, including the offer of a face-saving measure wherein blue-helmeted UN peacekeeping troops would be used instead of NATO troops. The negotiations thus became somewhat a game of musical chairs, each side trying to avoid being blamed for the breakdown of the talks. To add to the farce, the NATO Contact Group countries were desperate to avoid having to make good on their threat of force—Greece and Italy were opposed to the idea. Consequently, when the talks failed to achieve an agreement by the original deadline of 19 February, they were extended by another month.
The two paragraphs above, however, are partially contradicted by the historical evidence. In particular, the statement by the co-chairmen Robin Cook and Hubert Védrine on 23 February 1999 that the negotiations have led to a consensus on substantial autonomy for Kosovo, including on mechanisms for free and fair elections to democratic institutions, for the governance of Kosovo, for the protection of human rights and the rights of members of national communities; and for the establishment of a fair judicial system. They went on to say that a political framework is now in place leaving the further work of finalizing the implementation Chapters of the Agreement, including the modalities of the invited international civilian and military presence in Kosovo.
In the end, on 18 March 1999, the Albanian, American and British delegation signed what became known as the 'Rambouillet Accords' while the Serbian and Russian delegations refused. The accords called for NATO administration of Kosovo as an autonomous province within Yugoslavia; a force of 30,000 NATO troops to maintain order in Kosovo; an unhindered right of passage for NATO troops on Yugoslav territory, including Kosovo; and immunity for NATO and its agents to Yugoslav law. According to Tim Judah, the Serbian side used Annex B only later on as a reason for the failure of talks; at the time, the Serbs rejected any discussion of the involvement of foreign troops, let alone the extensive rights that would have been afforded them by Annex B.
In commentary released to the press, former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger declared that:
The Rambouillet text, which called on Serbia to admit NATO troops throughout Yugoslavia, was a provocation, an excuse to start bombing. Rambouillet is not a document that an angelic Serb could have accepted. It was a terrible diplomatic document that should never have been presented in that form.— Henry Kissinger, Daily Telegraph, 28 June 1999
A former hand on the State Department's Yugoslavia desk, George Kenney, reported in May 1999 that a senior State Department official had briefed journalists off the record that "[we] deliberately set the bar higher than the Serbs could accept".
Events proceeded rapidly after the failure at Rambouillet. The international monitors from the OSCE were withdrawn on 22 March for fear of the monitors' safety ahead of the anticipated bombing by NATO. On 23 March, the Serbian assembly issued a resolution that condemned the withdrawal of the OSCE monitors, and accepted the principle of "autonomy" for Kosovo and non-military part of the agreement.
NATO leaders had expected that a brief bombing campaign would lead to Serb forces withdrawing from Kosovo, hence ending the humanitarian crisis; but Milošević may have gambled that his government and armed forces could withstand a few days of bombing without serious harm.
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