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Arms to Bosnia

May 21, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


RICHARD HOLBROOKE, Former Assistant Secretary of State: Although I would have–I might have disagreed with some tactical aspects of it, that’s what bureaucracies and bureaucrats do. Although I might have done it a little differently, the fundamental policy was absolutely correct, and without it, the Bosnian government would never have survived the winter of 1994/95 and we never would have gotten to Dayton. It’s as simple as that. Sarajevo was in desperate shape at that point, having barely survived its war with the Croats and being under continual assault from the Serbs.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, Chairman, Select Intelligence Committee: But wasn’t the effort to send Iranian arms to Bosnia a circumvention of the international arms embargo?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: To the extent that any country, Iran or any other country, sent arms to Bosnia or Croatia or Serbia, or for that matter Slovenia or the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, all of which were covered by that dreadful UN Security Council resolution, which you and I both opposed, but which was supported twice in 1992 by the United States, to that extent, any arms flowing in, and they came from everywhere, was a circumvention of the UN. Of course, it was. The United States did not participate in this.

SEN. JOHN KYL, (R) Arizona: My view is that the problem with the policy encouraging Iranian arms shipments is the continuing Iranian presence in Bosnia which has two negative implications: one, a very real threat of terrorism against U.S. and NATO troops, and two, an impediment to legitimate arming and training of Bosnian government military by appropriate nations, which, of course, was implicitly committed as a result of the Dayton Accords.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Senator, we were quite aware–at least certainly I was when I returned–of the risks you cite. Policy sometimes requires you to make difficult choices. This was a difficult choice. I would unhesitatingly have supported i, had I been part of it at that time. In retrospect, I still think it was absolutely correct; however, we were very aware of the risks you outlined, and we didn’t like them. It was for that reason that in the Dayton negotiations, in Annex 1A, we went out of our way to write an absolutely unambiguous set of statements requiring all foreign forces to leave. When we felt in February of this year that the Bosnian government was slow to get the Iranians out, Adm. Smith exercising his authority under the Dayton Agreements, conducted a raid against an Iranian safe house, the best intelligence estimates are that the number of Iranians left in the country is in the very low double digits. They are not consequential at this point, and on the other hand, we are pursuing this as an enormously critical issue.

SEN. BOB KERREY, (D) Nebraska: But I do think in good faith that the debate on the Hill would have been much different had congressional leadership been pulled in and said, look, here’s what’s going on over here. You need to know it. It’s a very ticklish and difficult situation for us. Here are the risks. We understand what the risks are. We think that we can get this job done if you’ll support us in executing this policy.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: You’re talking about April ’94. I wasn’t around.

SEN. BOB KERREY: I appreciate that, but, but the administration is the administration. The administration did not inform Congress–and it’s not accurate, Mr. Ambassador, to say that as long as the “Washington Times” carries a story about it and the “New York Times” carries a story about it that the whole world knew about it. And certainly it’s not accurate to say that Congress was informed as a consequence of that reporting.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I understand your point, Senator.