The Clinton administration followed the “letter of the law” required of the United States when the president secretly gave a green light to Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia, the White House said Friday.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry said that “the United States has always maintained that it upheld the letter of the law and the requirements of the U.N. Security Council resolution” calling for an international arms embargo on the warring parties in the Balkans, and that the Iranian policy did not constitute a violation of America’s international obligations.
White House and State Department officials responded to a story in Friday’s Los Angeles Times about President Clinton’s 1994 decision to give secret approval to Iranian arms shipments through Croatia and to the Bosnian-Muslim government by seeking to downplay its significance, and stressing that U.S. officials never directly violated the embargo themselves.
Yet Republican congressional leaders reacted Friday by calling for a series of investigations into the administration’s actions.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., the presumptive Republican presidential nominee now gearing up for his general election campaign against Clinton, quickly seized on the issue and said in a statement Friday that he has asked the chairmen of four Senate committees to begin probes of the policy.
“The reports that President Clinton secretly approved Iran’s shipments … is very disturbing news,” Dole said in a statement from his vacation in Bal Harbour, Fla. “Not only are there questions raised about whether administration officials were intentionally duplicitous in their dealings with the Congress, but also whether laws were broken and a covert operation was conducted.”
Tony Blankley, chief spokesman for House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., called the Clinton policy a “reckless action,” and added that four House committee chairmen are exploring the issued raised by the The Times article.
But administration officials stressed that it was widely known that they were never enthusiastic supporters of the arms embargo - and that it is not news that they were never pushing hard for universal enforcement of its provisions. During his 1992 presidential campaign, in fact, Clinton called for the lifting of the arms embargo, and only backed away from that proposal after he was in office, and after his initial attempts as president to lift the arms ban ran into stiff opposition from America’s allies.
“The administration opposed the arms embargo and sought unsuccessfully to lift it multilaterally,” said State Department spokesman Glyn Davies. “But we always abided fully by its terms; we didn’t provide arms to the Bosnian government or to Croatia directly or indirectly. The Intelligence Oversight Board (a small White House office that conducted a secret six-month investigation of the policy) looked into this matter and found no evidence that U.S. laws governing covert action were in any way violated,” by the administration’s policy actions, he added.
Blankley said in a statement that the chairmen of the House International Relations, National Security, Intelligence and Judiciary committees “are beginning to explore the issues raised in today’s L.A. Times article and will decide in the near future what further steps will be necessary to fully examine all the issues surrounding U.S. culpability in this illicit Iran arms policy.”
House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., issued a separate statement Friday charging that the Clinton policy now has the effect of making it much more difficult for Washington to attempt to get Islamic foreign fighters out of Bosnia.
The Clinton green light for Iranian arms has “given a terrorist regime a foothold in the Balkans … Keeping Congress and our NATO allies in the dark, the administration apparently gave secret, tacit approval to an underground military supply line from Iran to Bosnia, a clear breach of the U.N. arms embargo then in force.”