The claim by the defence of Radovan Karadzic that he had a deal with Richard Holbrooke ("This is it – leave public and political life in Republika Srpska and you won’t have to go to the Hague." "OK…") is back in the news again.

Back in mid-1996, only a few months after the Dayton Peace deal, I was in London for a senior meeting to discuss how the Karadzic issue should be managed. I was HM Ambassador-designate for Sarajevo, and was allowed to sit at the back.

Carl Bildt (High Representative) plus senior American and European diplomats argued crossly to and fro in the FCO Map Room about how far the international community in Bosnia could and should press to force Karadzic from the forthcoming Dayton elections.

The issue came to a head over election posters. Should posters supporting Karadzic’s political party with his picture on them be tolerated? Or should OSCE (led by US diplomat Bob Frowick) ask NATO for the support needed to stop them?

The Americans (no doubt with a view to Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign) argued forcefully that Karadzic had to be forced from the scene. How could we accept an ICTY indictee being glorified?

The Europeans with (alas) the Brits to the fore countered that we had to proceed with caution; being too assertive with the Serbs could collapse the elections and wreck Dayton.

This was my first serious encounter with a hard Bosnia negotiation – I had missed the immediate policy decisions of the conflict while on a posting in Moscow. Watching it as a newcomer to the deeper issues and the psychology of some of the top diplomats involved, I thought that the Americans won the intellectual and moral argument hands down. The British arguments were clever but technical – they seemed nervous and unconvincing.

Anyway, it was decided to press for Karadzic to withdraw fully from the elections. So what did the Americans then proceed to offer him by way of inducements to do so? Anything?

The Karadzic defence claim that he was offered ICTY immunity soon after that London meeting:

He says Mr Holbrooke, then the US envoy to Bosnia, agreed to provide him with immunity at a meeting in Belgrade on 18-19 July, 1996.

Mr Karadzic does not claim to have attended the meeting, but says the former Bosnian Serb assembly speaker, Momcilo Krajisnik, and foreign minister, Aleksa Buha, were there and could testify to Mr Holbrooke’s alleged promise. 

Thus, Questions.

Is the Karadzic claim plausible?

Yes. Very much so.

Is it of any legal consequence? Probably not.

No US diplomat could offer a promise of immunity binding on the Tribunal without being armed with the highest and explicit authority of the Tribunal to do so, which it surely did not give.

Is this unfolding saga potentially fascinating and embarrassing for Holbrooke and Mrs Clinton, whose husband must have been involved in this power-play in part for his own political purposes?

Yes. Although if it comes to it they will surely brush aside proof of any promises which the then Clinton team may have made as being purely a ploy for the Greater Good…