WASHINGTON — REPUBLICAN congressional leaders are on a collision course with the White House over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The outcome could significantly change the future of UN peacekeeping operations there -- and will be a key test of who controls US foreign policy.
Some senior GOP officials want to cut funding to United Nations peacekeeping operations in Bosnia. Forcing the UN out is seen as the first step toward the real GOP goal: ending the arms embargo on the Muslim-led government.
Legislation introduced last week by House International Relations Chairman Benjamin Gilman (R) of New York would impose strict conditions for further US funding. If the conditions are not met, the equivalent of one-third of the UN peacekeeping budget would be pulled.
Congressional support for lifting the arms embargo is unclear. But Republican advocates could get a major boost from a report due to be released today by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), a congressional watchdog agency.
The report says the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) has failed in its mission and questions whether it should receive additional resources.
''UNPROFOR has been ineffective in carrying out mandates leading to lasting peace in the former Yugoslavia,'' the report says.
UN troop pullout
UNPROFOR's departure would jeopardize tens of thousands of Muslims trapped in enclaves besieged by Bosnian Serb rebels. But it would also remove the main objection given by the US, its European allies, and Russia to lifting the UN arms embargo on the Sarajevo government. They argue that ending the embargo would greatly endanger UNPROFOR's 21,000 personnel by inflaming the war.
The GOP-sponsored legislation is part of the fiscal 1996 State Department budget proposal. It is also the latest of several Republican challenges to President Clinton's foreign policy, including relations with Russia and the UN, aid to Mexico, and reorganization of the State Deparment.
The UN arms embargo on the Bosnian government has been a major point of dispute with key lawmakers, especially Senate majority leader Bob Dole (R) of Kansas. The administration says it favors the lifting of the blockade, but only in agreement with its European allies and Russia.
Senator Dole and others contend that the embargo has prolonged the conflict by undermining the Bosnian government's ability to retake territory and force the Bosnian Serb rebels to negotiate a settlement. The Bosnian Serbs control 70 percent of the country.
''The GAO Report confirms in great detail what we already knew: that the UN operation in the former Yugoslavia is ineffective,'' Dole says. ''It's high time to review our support for this flawed policy.''
Dole had delayed introduction of legislation requiring the US to unilaterally lift the embargo pending the May 1 expiration of a four-month cease-fire. Sources say he will continue holding off on the bill until Congress finishes antiterrorism legislation prompted by the Oklahoma City bombing.
Representative Gilman has now stepped in with his legislation. It would bar the US contribution to UNPROFOR unless the president certified to Congress that these five conditions were being fulfilled. The president would have to certify that:
* The Bosnian government wanted UNPROFOR to remain.
* UNPROFOR was ''effectively'' protecting aid convoys, Sarajevo airport and six Muslim enclaves designated as UN ''safe areas.''
* The UN force was aiding the UN War Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia.
* The UN was cooperating with US officials in Bosnia.
* The UN was acting against its troops suspected of illegal activities, like black marketeering.
Since the war erupted in March 1992, the US has contributed $1.1 billion of the $3.3 billion the UN has assessed for UNPROFOR. Providing humanitarian aid and enforcing a UN ''no-fly'' zone has cost the US $1.4 billion.
The US contribution this year is put at $506 million. But Gilman's bill could block the funds by making it extremely difficult for the president to certify several of the requisite conditions, especially those pertaining to the safe areas and aid convoys.
Except on several occasions, the UN has declined to use NATO air power to protect the safe areas because of fears for the safety of its troops.