Brushing aside administration objections, the House passed a non-binding resolution Monday telling Bosnia peace negotiators they should not presume U.S. troops will be available to enforce an agreement. The House acted two days before talks were to begin in Dayton, Ohio.
Before the vote, U.S. mediator Richard Holbrooke said supporters of the House resolution were “doing grave damage to the national interests.” He said the negotiations would open “without any assurance of success.”
The resolution said it was the sense of the House “there should not be a presumption” that enforcement of a peace agreement “will involve deployment of United States armed forces on the ground in the territory of the Republic of Bosnia.”
The resolution also said no troops should be sent to Bosnia “until the Congress has approved such a deployment.”
The resolution was adopted on a vote of 315-103.
The House resolution needs no further action and there was no comparable bill in the Senate.
Holbrooke arrived in Dayton, where the negotiations will open Wednesday.
At a news conference before he left Washington, the assistant secretary of state said his chances of persuading the presidents of Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia to reach an agreement heavily depended on showing “some American and allied leadership.” “This kind of resolution is extremely unhelpful,” he said. “It would weaken the United States.”
But Rep. Stephen Buyer, R-Ind., a gulf war veteran who was one of the principal sponsors of the resolution, said “U.S. troops will become targets” if they are sent to Bosnia.
“Did we learn nothing from the deaths of our Marines in Lebanon and the loss of our soldiers in Somalia?” said Rep. Paul McHale, D-Pa., another Gulf War veteran.
Opposing the resolution, Minority Whip David Bonior, D-Mich., referred to reports of atrocities against Bosnian Muslims and asked, “Will the bloodshed continue? We have turned our backs long enough.”
President Clinton has said he would commit up to 25,000 U.S. troops to a NATO peacekeeping force if all warring parties in Bosnia agree to a peace agreement. Clinton has said he would seek agreement for any deployment from Congress, but said he did not believe he was required to do so.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., told reporters: “It would be nice if the president told us what he intended to do and asked our advice before he did it.”
Holbrooke said there could be no peace in Bosnia without U.S. troops under NATO command and prepared to retaliate instantly if attacked. He rejected any comparisons to Vietnam, where he worked as a young foreign service officer.
“We are not going to send people into war,” he said. “We are going to send Americans into peace.”
The negotiations will bring to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Presidents Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia. “If Dayton does not succeed, the country will slip back to war,” Holbrooke said.
Northwest lawmakers split along party lines on Monday’s vote.
Idaho Republicans Helen Chenoweth and Mike Crapo voted for the resolution that U.S. troops should not be committed to Bosnia without congressional approval, as did Washington state Republicans Jennifer Dunn, Doc Hastings, Jack Metcalf, George Nethercutt, Linda Smith, Randy Tate and Rick White.
Washington Democrats Norm Dicks and Jim McDermott voted against the resolution.
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