May 31, 1996 in Nation/World

Bosnia Arms Shipments Praised Diplomats Say Letting Iran Break Embargo Saved Bosnia

Boston Globe

The U.S. decision to look the other way as Iran and other Islamic countries funneled arms to Bosnia, in violation of an embargo, saved the Bosnian government and people from certain doom, two U.S. diplomats testified Thursday.

Two years ago, the United States took no position when the Croatian government asked if it had objections to Croatia allowing armaments intended for Bosnia to cross its territory.

Peter W. Galbraith, the U.S. ambassador to Croatia, and Charles Redman, the US ambassador to Germany who was a key negotiator in ending the Balkan war two years ago, said that the U.S. decision eventually led to the peace accord struck in Dayton last year.

“I believed then and even more strongly now that the administration made the right decision,” Galbraith said in testimony before the House International Relations Committee. “Because of the arms, Bosnia was able to survive.”

Galbraith and Redman were called back from Europe to be grilled by the Republican-controlled House International Relations Committee Thursday. Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, the New York Republican who is chairman of the committee, charged that Clinton administration acquiescence in the arms traffic allowed Iran, a rogue terrorist state, to gain a “substantial beachhead” in the Balkans.

But Galbraith and Redman, backed by committee Democrats, undermined the critics by testifying that Iranian influence in Bosnia actually diminished rather than increased as a result of the arms transfers.

The diplomats said that Iran, which maintained diplomatic relations with the Muslim dominated government of Bosnia, had begun to send arms and provide military training as early as 1991.

Iran and other Islamic nations were the first to rally to Bosnian assistance despite an international arms embargo, when Bosnian Serbs began a systematic eradication of Bosnian Muslims as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign.

“The war created the opportunity for Iran and other undesirables,” said Galbraith. “Perversely, from the Iranian perspective, the decision had the effect of diminishing the Iranian influence because it enabled the Bosnians to defend themselves.”

The number of Iranian Republican Guard soldiers in Bosnia went from an estimated 500 to a handful, the diplomats said.

By receiving arms, the Bosnian government was able to rise up against Bosnian Serb aggression and stop a siege of enclaves of Muslims. A reversal of military fortunes eventually led to peace talks. Galbraith and Redman testified that without some sort of intervention, the Bosnian state and people would have been destroyed either by military might or by cold and famine.

Galbraith said he was given “no instructions” by the State Department and National Security Council when he asked for the U.S. position on whether Croatia should allow arms to cross in April 1994. He said that he told Croatian government officials to pay careful attention to “what I did not say.”

Three months after Galbraith looked the other way in April of 1994, the Congress passed a resolution instructing the U.S. government to do nothing to block arms from getting to the Bosnians.

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