APRIL 24, 1996
PRESIDENT CLINTON: There are many who say, well, we can do it unilaterally and we ought to do it unilaterally, but, remember, if we do that, first of all, there are substantial questions about whether in international law we can do it, but secondly, if you resolved all those, what about the embargo that we have led against Iraq that others would like to back off of but they don't because they gave their agreement that they wouldn't?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But even as that debate was underway in Washington, outside arms were being transported into Bosnia with tacit American approval, according to "Washington Post" articles last year and more recently the "Los Angeles Times." The "Times" said that in 1994, the Croatian President, Franjo Tudjman asked U.S. diplomats if Washington would object to the creation of an arms pipeline that would transfer weapons from Iran to Bosnia. The "Times" said that Washington did not object. This was later confirmed by the administration.
The arms reportedly traveled to Bosnia via a large and well-organized air lift from Iran through Turkey into Croatia and from there by road to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The shipments totalled thousands of tons of small arms, mortars, anti-tank weapons, and surface-to-air missiles according to the news reports. The recent "LA Times" articles have sparked new controversy coming at the beginning of the presidential campaign. Republicans began criticizing the President for misleading Congress. Majority Leader Robert Dole, the likely GOP Presidential nominee and an early advocate of lifting the arms embargo, attacked the administration from the Senate floor.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE, Majority Leader: For nearly three years, this administration opposed congressional efforts to lift the unjust and illegal arms embargo on Bosnia and Herzegovina. We were told and the American people were told that the United States was bound by the UN embargo in the former Yugoslavia. We were told that if America "violated" this embargo, we would lose support from our allies for other embargoes, such as the one against Iraq.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: President Clinton said his administration did nothing improper.
REPORTER: Are you concerned about the investigation of Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia during the war?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: No.
REPORTER: Did you allow it to happen?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Our, our record on that is clear. Mr. Lake has talked about it. There was absolutely nothing improper done.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yesterday, Undersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff told Congress the administration did not object to the shipments because it feared a military debacle for the Sarajevo government. He denied the administration was hiding anything.
PETER TARNOFF, Undersecretary of State: There was widespread information disseminated in documents available to the administration and to the Congress for a period of time with respect to shipments from Iran to, to the Bosnian forces through Croatia.
SPOKESMAN: Once the Clinton administration knew of the shipments from Iran, why was Congress not notified at that time?
PETER TARNOFF: Again, my, my recollection is really very clear that Congress was notified through documents made available to the leadership and the competent committees that there was shipment from several countries, including Iran, going to Bosnia from Croatia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And now the two senior members of the House International Relations Committee that heard Mr. Tarnoff's testimony yesterday. Congressman Ben Gilman, Republican of New York, is the committee chairman. Congressman Lee Hamilton of Indiana is the ranking Democrat. Thank you both for being with us. Congressman Gilman, you heard the exchange and Sec. Tarnoff says that Congress had been informed about the shipments, is that not the case?
REP. BENJAMIN GILMAN, (R) New York: I don't recall any direct information from the administration to my office. I think that they are referring to some general reports that were circulating that some arms were being shipped by the Iranians into Bosnia. I would think that in a situation like this there should have been a formal briefing by the administration telling us just what they had or had not done with regard to Iranian arms being shipped into Bosnia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Congressman Hamilton, did you--do you feel that you knew that this was happening, you were given the information you needed?
REP. LEE HAMILTON, (D) Indiana: I knew. I think many members, perhaps most members of Congress knew. This information appeared in the "National Intelligence Daily." Many members of Congress have access to that, not once but several times. It was even reported publicly in the newspapers. So the fact that the Iranians were shipping arms to Bosnia I think should come as no surprise. And, moreover, there were no objections to it. I asked Mr. Tarnoff yesterday if they had any objections during this period of time. He said, no, there were no objections from members of Congress, so we knew, and we did not object.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Congressman Gilman, this was in the "Washington Post" just about this time last year. The Post reported that the administration had sort of let this happen, acquiesced in this happening. Why is there such a big issue being made now? What is new? Is there new information?
REP. GILMAN: Well, the--many of us in the Congress wanted to lift the embargo, but we wanted U.S. arms to go into Bosnia. We didn't want Iranian arms or Iranian trainers to be in Bosnia to give them a foothold in the European nation. They are now ensconced in Iran, even have a cultural center in Sarajevo, an embassy in Sarajevo. We're very much concerned that this can lead to an eventual opening in the door for an Iranian--further Iranian-led state by the number of Iranians who are in Bosnia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And in your view, last year's news reports didn't make it clear enough that the Iranians were shipping arms and getting a presence in Bosnia.
REP. GILMAN: These were indirect reports. We had no formal briefing and no direct intelligence from the administration. There were newspaper reports, but we had received no direct information from the administration, but the point remains is that they allowed by acquiescing, allowed the Iranians to gain a foothold to come into Bosnia to start actively being involved in the Bosnian hostilities.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think they should have done?
REP. GILMAN: I think that, No. 1, they should have sat down with the Congress and briefed them and then talked about the implications of having Iranian trainers and Iranian intelligence people in Bosnia and what that could lead to. I don't think there was any consultation with regard to that, or any review with regard to this policy by the Congress or consultation with the Congress.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about that, Congressman Hamilton?
REP. HAMILTON: Well, I think the President was confronted with some very tough alternatives here, some tough options. He could, of course, oppose the transfer of these arms from Iran to Bosnia. He did not want to do that because the Serbs were winning the war, and the Bosnians needed the arms. He could have unilaterally lifted the embargo as many in the Congress wanted him to do, but that would have drawn us into the conflict. It would have disrupted NATO, even split NATO apart, and caused the problems the President referred to a moment ago with some of our other diplomatic efforts to, to sanction and to embargo. The third choice the President had was simply to do nothing. I think the proof is in the pudding, so to speak, here. I think that choice--it was a judgment call--turned out to be the right one. After all the military balance, after this judgment was made by the President, began to shift, the military balance improved for the Bosnians. That led to a diplomatic effort by the United States. That led to the Dayton Agreement and peace, so I think the policy results here were pretty good.
As for Mr. Gilman's point about the Iranians gaining a foothold, I don't think I accept that simply because the Iranians were already in Bosnia. They didn't come in as a result of the President's decision. They were there and they were very active before the President's decision. They remain there today, but I think they are moving out, at least in a military and intelligence sense, and I, I see positive developments there.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Congressman Gilman, what about the point that Congressman Hamilton makes that there were very difficult options available and given the fact that the Iranians were perhaps already there in Bosnia, that allowing these arms shipments to go through was the best of all possible choices?
REP. GILMAN: Well, I don't agree that this is the best of all possible choices. I think--no question the President had some hard choices to make, but there was no reason for him not to consult with the Congress and let us know what he intended to do at the same time that he was objecting to the lifting of the embargo to turn his head and allow the arms to come in even though he was publicly stating that he would not agree to any lifting of the embargo. Yes, Iranians were there, but they were more actively involved once the arms were coming through in training and preparing the Bosnians how to use the weaponry that was coming in. And now we're learning that the reason that there's going to be a possible delay in our leaving, eventually exiting for Bosnia is the fact that there are still Iranian people at work in Bosnia, and until Bosnia agrees to evict all of the Iranians that we cannot agree to any final exit strategy. And I don't think the Iranians are going to want to leave now that they have a foothold in Iran--in Bosnia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Congressman Gilman, the Intelligence Oversight Committee investigated this, it's a White House panel, and said that there had been no wrongdoing. This is for Congressman Gilman. Do you think that's not enough? Is that panel not--is it enough for you?
REP. GILMAN: It is not enough. We had a hearing yesterday. There were a lot of unanswered questions. We want to know, besides the President's acquiescence, were there any steps taken to enable this shipment of the arms, and was the President involved in the decision of acquiescence? We now have a differing foreign policy from time to time. We saw what constructive engagement was all about. We then heard about strategic acquiescence, and now we have a "lights out" policy as the "New York Times" described it when the ambassador in Bosnia was asked about whether or not he had a green light or a red light with regard to the arms being shipped by the Iranians into Bosnia. It was characterized as a "lights out" policy that was no green light and no red light.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Congressman Hamilton, the Intelligence Oversight Committee investigated for several months. Was that an adequate investigation, in your view?
REP. HAMILTON: Well, first of all, I think the Congress clearly has the right to investigate. We want to do that in an effective and efficient manner. Secondly, there may be some advantage to a select committee in the mere fact that you synchronize and coordinate an investigation. And I hope that will be the case here so that no other committees will be investigating and you have duplicative work. But I must say at this point I really do not see compelling reasons for the establishment of a select committee. No charges here so far as I know of violation of law. The basic facts are in agreement, three or four committees looking into it. It seems to me that they're doing a reasonably good job my friend, Chairman Gilman, I think, did a good job yesterday in the hearings, so I don't see compelling reasons for a select committee but if that's the choice of the leadership in the Congress I'm prepared to go along with it and to cooperate and to get all of these facts out.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about that, Congressman Gilman, why a select committee? Are there any--is there any indication that more was done to encourage these arms shipments than we're being told?
REP. GILMAN: Well, there are some unanswered questions, and that's what we want to find out. And a select committee to have a bipartisan review, it will be consisting of both Republicans and Democrats, both Mr. Hamilton and I will serve in an ex-officio capacity, and it'll give it, this subcommittee an opportunity to spend some full time in taking a good, hard look at this issue so that one way or another we'll know whether or not there's any right or wrong committed in this initiative.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Congressman Gilman, you heard Mike McCurry say that this is just happening because it's an election year. What do you think about that, Congressman Gilman?
REP. GILMAN: I don't think it's a political action. There's some real questions that should and must be answered, and I think the best way to do it is through this kind of a select committee.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Congressman Hamilton, is this all--is a big deal being made of this because it's an election year in your view?
REP. HAMILTON: Well, I'd be the last one to charge any of my colleagues on the Hill with political motivations.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Thank you both very much.