WASHINGTON — TO Republican lawmakers, the Clinton administration's tacit approval of secret Iranian arms shipments to the Muslim-led Bosnian government smacks of incompetence, duplicity, or worse. To Democrats, the widening GOP investigation into the matter smacks of election-year posturing.
"This is very much a politically motivated, bogus issue. We knew in the Congress two years ago that arms were being allowed into Bosnia," says Rep. James Moran (D) of Virginia.
"Clinton's policy of virtually inviting Iran into Europe could have disastrous results for America," rejoins House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia. "The president undertook this reckless policy hastily and then kept it secret."
Mr. Gingrich announced Wednesday the creation of a select subcommittee to investigate the administration's decision to look the other way while Iran shipped arms to Muslims in Bosnia. It will parallel investigations by three other panels.
Administration officials say the arms shipments helped to stave off the defeat of the Bosnian army by better-armed Bosnian Serb separatists, opening the door to the 1995 Dayton peace accord. Republicans respond that the decision allowed Iran to establish a military and political outpost in Europe.
The matter first grabbed Congress's attention earlier this month when the Los Angeles Times reported that Mr. Clinton decided in April 1994 not to obstruct the establishment through Croatia of an Iranian arms-supply pipeline to Bosnia. The administration has confirmed that the US ambassador to Croatia was directed to tell Croatia that he had "no instructions" regarding such shipments, diplomatic language that conveys a lack of objection.
The decision, however, contrasts sharply with an earlier administration position related to weapons supplies in the former Yugoslav republic. When Senate majority leader Bob Dole (R) of Kansas wanted the US to exempt the Bosnian government from a 1992 United Nations arms embargo, the White House argued against it.
Mr. Dole, the presumptive GOP presidential contender, has denounced the administration's decision as duplicitous and called for investigations into whether laws requiring congressional notification of covert actions were violated. A six-month probe completed last month by the president's Intelligence Oversight Board found no breaches of the law. But Republicans have expressed reservations about that conclusion after the administration decided to withhold the IOB report from Congress.
Democrats say they are perplexed by Gingrich's call for investigation by a select subcommittee, a forum they argue has been used only in cases of alleged illegalities and improprieties. But a GOP aide says: "Congress ... was told the US could not lift the embargo because that would erode other sanctions regimes and endanger our NATO allies. Now we find out that the administration decided to let the Iranians do it, which has damaged our credibility with our allies [and] opened the door to Iranian influence."