“Writers and commentators characterized him as dour, attentive to detail, patient, steady and poised, but rarely, if ever, charismatic. Clinton once joked that Mr. Christopher was “the only man ever to eat presidential M&Ms with a knife and fork.” No one was surprised when, on an official stopover in Ireland, he ordered Irish coffee, decaffeinated and without alcohol.”
Reading this, I thought I remembered something I'd read in Richard Holbrooke's memoirs, way back in 1999. So I dug through my ancient notes, and sure enough, there it was: the one time Christopher's poise cracked.
In Chapter 18 of “To End A War,” describing the 1995 peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, there is a point where the Americans' eagerness to help the “Bosnians" (Muslims) backfires. Having secured 55% percent of the territory for the Muslim-Croat Federation, they had to cede some land back to the Serbs, to conform to their own principle of splitting the country 51/49. In marathon talks lasting late into the night, Haris Silajdzic, Izetbegovic's foreign minister, ceded back some “worthless land” (Holbrooke's words) to the Serb Republic. It was 4 AM, and the deal seemed done. Except for one tiny little detail - all the land Silajdzic ceded was in Croat hands. When Tudjman's delegation saw the map, they went ballistic. Holbrooke describes the situation:
“Izetbegovic still had not said a word. I turned to him, fearing his response, ‘What do you think, Mr. President? Can we finish the negotiation right now?’
His answer sealed the long day. ‘I cannot accept this agreement,’ he said in a low voice, in English.
‘What did you say?’ Christopher asked, in astonishment.
More loudly: ‘I cannot accept this agreement.’”
The Americans were exasperated.
“'Do you think Izetbegovic even wants a deal? Carl [Bildt, Swedish diplomat] asked. It was a question that Warren Christopher had also been asking. ‘I’m never quite sure,’ I replied... Chris Hill, normally highly supportive of the Bosnians, exploded in momentary anger and frustration. ‘These people are impossible to help,’ he said. It was a telling statement from a man who had devoted years of his life to the search for ways to help create a Bosnian state.”(emphasis added)
The Serbs were willing to accept “rocks, swamps, hills – anything, as long as it gets us to 51-49.” Tudjman offered to contribute 75% of the retro-ceded land, but the Muslims had to give something.
“To our consternation, Izetbegovic refused to budge. While Silajdzic sat silent, Sacirbey argued that the Croat position was still unfair. And, to Christopher’s amazement, Izetbegovic began talking again about Brcko, Srebrenica and Zepa. We returned to my rooms, where Christopher expressed himself in unusually vivid terms on the performance we had just witnessed.”(emphasis added)