An American Ambassador

CBS News Correspondent Rita Braver recently covered the Kosovo peace talks outside Paris. For her latest weekly column for, she spoke to U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill, a key negotiator there.

It was midnight in Paris and U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill was exhausted. He'd spent most of the day about 30 miles outside the city, holed up in the 14th Century Rambouillet Chateau, trying to forge a peace agreement for Kosovo, the war-torn Serbian province bordering Albania and Macedonia.
Anti-Serb demonstrators in Rambouillet (AP)
The very idea seems intimidating. After all, the rivalries are centuries old between the Ethnic Albanian Muslims who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's population and the Orthodox Christian Serbs who control the military and political apparatus in the province.

Ironically, the hostilities have erupted as a result of the fall of communism in eastern Europe. Back during the cold war, when Tito dictated everything in the former Yugoslavia, factions didn't dare challenge the state's authority. But now the smell of freedom is in the air, and the Kosovo Albanians want their share.

And that gets us back to Christopher Hill. His official title is U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia. But he served as one of the top three negotiators at the Rambouillet talks. It was his job to fly scores of shuttle missions into Belgrade, to try to reason with reluctant Yugoslav Strongman Slobodan Milosevic about granting self government to the Kosovo Albanians. "Milosevic's views on Kosovo frankly are not that different from most other Serbs," Hill says. "The trouble is, I think maybe he's a little more stubborn than most other Serbs."

But though Americans have cringed as they saw the videotape of Kosovo Albanians slaughtered last month in the village of Racak, and though our hearts have gone out to the hundreds of thousands of refugees taking to the roads in horses and wagons, the question really is, should the U.S. even try to fix this problem?

For Hill, the answer is a clear yes, because the conflict could quickly spread to Albania, Macedonia and even beyond.

And whether you agree with him or not, you have to be impressed with his concept of service. He worked round the clock at Rambouillet.

Chateau Rambouillet (AP)

"The mood just goes up and down," he told us. Â…"You're constantly going with two hours sleep, three hours sleep. You're on the phone to ashington all the time."

Hill is 45 years old. He has a B.A. from Bowdoin College and a masters from the Naval War College. He served in the Peace Corps and joined the Foreign Service in 1977. He speaks French, Serbo-Croatian and Polish but, thank goodness, he does not speak the diplo-gobbledygook you get from so many other ambassadors.

No, Hill didn't score a final deal at Rambouillet. But he was the one who finally talked the Kosovo Albanians into a preliminary agreement. And he firmly believes Americans have to stay involved. "You've got to realize that you have a leadership role and you've got to use it, because people look to you for leadership. They expect it," he says. "And when you don't show it, some bad things can happen."

Despite Hill's efforts bad things are still happening in Kosovo. But he is not ready to give up. He has that old-fashioned American belief that problems can be fixed and that tenacity will pay off.