If a diplomatic solution can be found to the crisis in Kosovo, the United States would "strongly consider some sort of participation" in a NATO-led peacekeeping force, the Pentagon's spokesman said.

The NATO alliance is preparing "plans for both air and ground operations" in the province, Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon told reporters Thursday.Bacon greeted the move Thursday by Kosovar Albanians, who have formed a team to enter peace talks with the Yugoslav government. However, the rebels seeking independence for Kosovo have not agreed to participate.

The spokesman noted that any decision on participation in a NATO force would be up to President Clinton, and one he would make only after consulting with military leaders and Congress.

The goal of U.S. policy is a diplomatic settlement, he added.

But in the meantime, NATO's top military officer, Gen. Wesley Clark, is informally querying alliance members on whether they could contribute air forces in the event an air operation or exercise might be needed in the region - should diplomacy fail, Bacon said.