November 5, 1997 in Nation/World

Clinton Lobbies Congress To Keep Troops In Bosnia

Peter Baker Washington Post

President Clinton began laying the political groundwork with Congress Tuesday for keeping U.S. peacekeeping troops in Bosnia beyond the June 1998 deadline he set for their withdrawal.

During a lengthy White House meeting, Clinton told congressional leaders that he does not want to sacrifice the progress made in the ethnically divided country. Although he said he had not made a decision, several lawmakers emerged convinced that he ultimately will opt to extend the military operation in Bosnia to prevent the collapse of a fragile peace.

“My sense is the president will move to continue the military presence in Bosnia,” Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., said as he left the White House. “I have no doubt about that,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., agreed a few minutes later.

The two-hour session in the State Dining Room was intended to build a consensus with a Congress that has balked at an indefinite commitment of U.S. soldiers in a volatile region and grown deeply suspicious of Clinton’s promises to extricate them. Clinton has failed to meet selfimposed deadlines for troop withdrawals from global hot spots in the past, most recently in November 1996 when he extended the Bosnia mission until next year.

Congress has voted to cut off funding for the Bosnia deployment after next June, although the measure will not suspend funding if Clinton determines that the troops should remain and provides lawmakers with specific information about the size, scope and duration of a subsequent force.

Within the administration, officials increasingly have accepted the probability of another extension, given the major challenges that remain in rebuilding Bosnia’s economic and political structures, returning refugees to their homes and capturing war criminals.

If the United States were to withdraw its troops, Britain, France and other NATO allies participating in the multinational stabilization force say they would pull out as well.

While various options are under consideration, any new force to replace the current 8,000 U.S. troops would probably be roughly half the size, according to administration officials.

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