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White House Defends Silence on Iran Arms Issue
Feared a 'Military Debacle' in Bosnia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The Clinton administration decided not to object to Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia in 1994 because it feared a "military debacle" for the Sarajevo government, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday. Undersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff, defending the position against hostile Republicans in Congress, rejected a charge that the administration gave "a green light" to Croatia's plan to funnel the arms to its embattled neighbor.

New York Times: Iran, Croatia Signed Secret Weapons Pact
Iran and Croatia signed a secret military cooperation agreement last December that included an Iranian proposal to deliver surface-to-surface missiles to Saravejo and Zagreb, the New York Times reported on Wednesday. The newspaper, quoting senior Croatian officials and Western diplomats, said the two countries also agreed on a plan to exchange Croatian and Iranian military personnel.

The agreement, signed after the Bosnia peace accord was reached in Dayton, Ohio, was never made public by either the Croatians or the Americans. The pact, viewed by diplomats as part of Teheran's efforts to deepen ties with Bosnia and Croatia, was blocked when Washington learned of it in December, the Times said.

For much of the war, Croatia allowed Iran to smuggle weapons through Croatian territory to the Muslin-led government in Saravejo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was strapped by the arms embargo on the area.

In return, the Croats took up to a third of all arms and munitions for their own use. And the United States turned a blind eye, the Times said in today's editions.

"We were concerned that a military debacle might ensue," Tarnoff told the House International Relations Committee. "I would characterize it as responding to circumstances at the time where the Bosnian government was confronted with a situation that put its very survival at risk."

Bosnian Muslims, allied with the Croats, were at that time under enormous pressure from the Bosnian Serbs, who were backed by Belgrade. The military balance swung in 1995, opening the way for last November's Dayton peace accords. Tarnoff provided the first formal confirmation by President Clinton's administration that it had made a decision not to interfere with the Iranian shipments through Croatia, which violated a United Nations arms embargo. He said he could not comment on reports Clinton had personally approved that decision.

"Given the military urgency of the situation facing the (Croat-Muslim) federation on the ground and the imbalance in favor of Bosnian Serb forces, the administration did not object to possible arms shipments to the Bosnians through Croatia," he said, adding: "We decided that we would neither approve nor object to such shipments."

U.S. officials have insisted the administration upheld "the letter of the law" over the Iranian shipments, saying it was not obliged to impede them under the terms of the U.N. Security Council embargo. Tarnoff added: "U.S. representatives were told to respond to further inquiries by the Croatian government by stating they had 'no instructions' on the matter. The United States has no contact with the government of Iran on this matter."

Republicans Charge Clinton with Deception
Congressional Republican leaders including Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole have accused the administration of deception by allowing the Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia even as it opposed U.S. efforts to lift the embargo. Dole, preparing for a presidential election race against Democrat Clinton in November, was a major proponent of lifting the embargo and has called for a Senate investigation of the U.S. role in the Iran arms shipments.

The House Intelligence Committee decided on Tuesday to conduct a formal investigation of the affair, Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas, announced. "The committee will seek to interview, under oath, all individuals who were involved in this matter," he said. Republicans said at the hearing that U.S. acceptance of Iran's arms shipments may jeopardize lasting peace in Bosnia because some Iranians who went to fight alongside the Muslims now refuse to leave and the United States refuses to arm and train Bosnian government forces until they do leave.

"By turning a blind eye to the Iranian arms shipments, the administration has allowed Iran to establish a sizeable beachhead in the Balkans and to block our own program to assist the Bosnian military," said the committee's chairman, Representative Benjamin Gilman, a New York Republican.

Additional resources
U.S. Defends Silence on Tehran's Arms Smuggling to Bosnia New York Times
Apr 16 · Republicans Challenge Clinton's Arms Nod
Apr 12 · Croatia Would Block More Iranian Arms to Bosnia
Apr 10 · Clinton: U.S. Did Nothing Wrong in Iran Arms Aid to Bosnia
Apr 9 · Iran Says it Supplied Humanitarian Aid to Bosnia
Apr 6 · Paper says Clinton Gave Nod to Covert Arms

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